I’m lucky enough not to have a work commute, though I know many people do. What I can’t explain is why carpooling has declined 50% since 1980, even as traffic gets worse and gas gets more expensive. What gives?
It seems that back in the 1970’s, a decade that saw disco and destitution, high gas prices, and the exaggerated death of the American muscle car. Many companies organized carpools for their employees, and at its peak about 25% of Americans got to work via a carpool. In the last 30 years though, that number has dropped by more than half, to less than 12%, despite building more carpool lanes and commuter parking lots. It’s a national problem, coast to coast.
One cause is that as Americans got wealthier, they were buying bigger houses farther from work, making carpooling more difficult despite a wealth of social networking devices and make it easier to find people to get to work with. Carpooling dates back to World War II, when there was a gas and rubber shortage, and hit its peak during the 1970′s. Interestingly enough, minorities carpool more than whites, and in the case of Hispanics, up to 28% of the time. People just don’t want to share the car, and would rather brave hours of traffic than seat next to Sarah from accounting, apparently.
How do we remedy this? I can think of only two ways; a massive overhaul of many mass transit systems, coast to coast, or an empty-seat tax. Obviously the former will have longer-lasting benefits, but the empty seat tax would be easier to implement. Charge $5 per-empty seat, and you’ll start seeing a lot more carpooling. All seats full? No charge. The money collected from the tolls can go towards building the aforementioned expensive mass transit projects.
I know it sounds draconian, but just building bigger and bigger highways hasn’t done anything to relieve congestion, and Americans don’t seem interested in carpooling, despite the billions of dollars poured into creating HOV lanes and promoting the practice. If anybody has a better idea, I’m all ears.
Source: New York Times
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMI’s. You can follow his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout.