casual carpool | 511 Contra Costa

How to ‘Casual Carpool’

Did you know you can catch a ride across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge without an app for an average cost of $1? You can! And it’s not a new service, it’s Casual Carpool – helping commuters reduce their travel time between San Francisco & the East Bay for almost 40 years.

Offering a dollar to the driver (to contribute to the $2.50 toll and gas) is just one of the ‘unspoken’ rules of Casual Carpool. Watch this short video featuring interviews with regular riders!

There are locations as close to the Bridge as Oakland, Berkeley & El Cerrito, and as far out as Lafayette and Hercules.

Carpooling: Easier Than Ever (with Apps)

Is carpooling for you? Here’s a quick test: Do you dislike sitting in traffic, enjoy saving money and wouldn’t mind a little company on the drive to work? If you answered “yes”, keep reading.
Myths Debunked
“It’s hard to find people to carpool with.” Finding people to carpool with is actually easier than it’s ever been. Beyond networking with friends, neighbors & co-workers to create a traditional carpool, apps like Lyft Line, UberPOOL, Scoop and Carzac help you connect with a carpool one ride at a time with no long-term commitment. Advance planning ranges from a few hours (Scoop) to a few minutes (LyftLine, UberPOOL).
“Carpooling doesn’t offer enough flexibility.” Carpooling works best when you tailor it to your needs. You don’t have to carpool five days a week; you can carpool as much as you like. Would you like to alternate between riding and driving? That can be arranged. And if you enjoy having no long-term commitment but want to go app-free, you can always try Casual Carpool. Just remember, there’s no wrong way to carpool!

Contra Costa County Guaranteed Ride Home
Alameda County Guaranteed Ride Home
Marin County Emergency Ride Home
San Francisco County Emergency Ride Home
Santa Clara County Emergency Ride Home
Solano County Emergency Ride Home

“If I miss my carpool, I’ll be stranded.” The Guaranteed Ride Home program ensures that carpoolers (and other alternative commuters) have a ride home when the unexpected happens. In the event of a crisis, unscheduled overtime or a carpool vehicle breaking down, Guaranteed Ride Home will reimburse you for your taxi or rideshare trip home up to six times a calendar year if you’re registered in the program.

NOTE: Which Guaranteed Ride Home program you’re eligible for depends on your county of employment. For more information, click the appropriate county program in the table above.

The Benefits of Carpooling
Here are some strong arguments in favor of carpooling:

  • Faster Commute: With access to more HOV lanes in Contra Costa County, you travel faster and get to work sooner
  • Save Money: Splitting the cost of gas and tolls saves you money
  • $25 Bonus: Carpool at least once a week in Contra Costa County & you can apply for the $25 Commuter Incentive
  • Cleaner Air: Fewer cars on the road means less emissions and better air quality
  • Less Stress: Getting out from behind the wheel allows you to read, relax, or even work
  • Be Social: If you have to drive to work, why do it alone?
  • Get Happy: Studies have shown a direct link between shorter commutes and greater satisfaction with life

Ready to give carpooling a try? If you live or work in Contra Costa be sure to sign up for the $25 Commuter Incentive, then visit the 511CC Carpool page for more information on how to get started!
If you have any questions about carpooling, feel free to contact us by emailing

Car-Sharing Continues to Grow (2013)

a surplus of cars-haring services
Peer-to-peer car-sharing services continue to grow, and this poster seems to captures why: it’s cheap and easy, lettings folks “rent cars by the hour” from people in their neighborhood. Photo credit: Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester
In the Bay Area we are fortunate to have a variety of ways of getting around for work, shop, and play. Recently, BART and bicycling (including bike-sharing) have received a lot of attention but there’s a glorious buffet of transportation options out there. One of the fastest growing options is car-sharing. Car-sharing is a convenient and easy way to save (or make) some money while reducing your carbon footprint. Here’s a sampling of the car-sharing section of the transportation buffet in the Bay Area.
While there are formal car-sharing companies such as Zipcar and City CarShare, peer-to-peer car-sharing availability has grown considerably in Contra Costa County– just take a look at this map from RelayRides showing available cars in the East Bay:

contra costa ride relay

RelayRide cars are all over the East Bay. Image via: RelayRides

Check out the RelayRides video. It cleverly demonstrates the concept in just two and a half minutes:
For a full list of car-sharing options, check out our car-sharing page. Video credit: RelayRides
Then there are peer-to-peer ride-share and carpooling services, such as Lyft and Sidecar, in which you pull out your phone and within minutes someone comes picks you up in their car. This service is better suited for short and perhaps spontaneous trips across town. This type of service is currently focused in San Francisco, which can still be convenient if you commute into the city and need a ride to the other side of town.  The Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) is currently partnering with Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) and Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) to pilot a similar app called “Real-Time Ridesharing” or RTR.
One of the latest car-sharing services to hit the streets of the Bay Area is Flightcar, and it is specifically tailored to airport travel. If you have a car and are driving to SFO, you can leave it with a Flightcar attendant and they will allow other people to use your car while you are gone. Alternatively, if you are coming into SFO (or have guests flying in) – they can rent someone else’s car seamlessly, and safely, via Flightcar.  Head over to Flightcar and get the details.
Similar services such as Airbnb, which allow you to rent a room in someone’s house or list a room in your home for short-term rental, peer-to-peer car-sharing is just one more way we can all share our existing resources and make getting around easier.  It may seem like there is an air of mystery with these kinds of shared services but once you try them you quickly find out they are quite reliable, and predictable.  Many peer-to-peer car-sharing services even prescreen users, link to their facebook profiles, and allow users to rate each other so you can rest easily knowing a bit about the person you rent your car to or from. So sit back, relax, and check out some of the peer-to-peer car-sharing services we’ve highlighted or head over to our car-sharing page for more similar services in the Bay Area.

Putting A Twist on Ride-sharing, Carpooling

Hey @lyft, looking good @hollymac @dogkiwi.
Catching a ride with someone via Lyft, as indicated by the car wearing an iconic pink mustache. Photo credit: lizasperling
Let’s face it, it was only a matter of time.
You have a smart phone, you just got out of a meeting and want to get across town. So you pull out your phone and within minutes someone comes to pick you up. What is this being described? It’s a new breed of carpool apps in action.
Sidecar, and Lyft are two – in a growing field of – smartphone applications that let you, the user, “fill your car’s empty seats with new friends or need to get across town in a hurry” as Sidecar puts it.  Its modern, real-time, carpooling.
Apps like Lyft and Sidecar are one more tool – in addition to transit, taxi, walking, cycling – in the toolbox to help one get around town in a snap without having to drive your own car.  For drivers, its a way to offset the costs of driving and reduce the environmental impact of your trips.
While Sidecar and Lyft are currently focused in San Francisco, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) is partnering with Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) and Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM), piloted a similar app called “Real-Time Ridesharing” or RTR.
Interested in learning more? Find out what these apps are all about: read about Sidecar hereLyft here,  and RTR here.

Pooling Around, Casually

What was your reaction the first time you heard of casual carpool?
I used to walk past a casual carpool stop on my way to BART. I was new to the Bay Area and didn’t understand why cars and people were lined up in a nondescript side street during certain parts of the day. Finally, a friend announced he was going to give it a try. Imagine that – getting in a car with a stranger and getting a free ride to work! I wished him luck, and walked with him on my way to BART.
Turn out, he had a good time. His first ride was in a big cushy Lexus SUV with a nice group of people, and he got to work in the same amount of time for free. He kept trying it. Eventually, he became a regular casual carpool commuter. His friends became vicarious carpoolers, always ready for the next story about his exotic commute.
The variety of stories about casual carpool are what make Commuter Gal’s Pooling Around such a fascinating read. She tells it like it is. Sometimes, it’s good (“We zip past the gridlocked toll plaza at 60 mph and are in the city by 8:15 a.m.“). Sometimes, it’s less good (“The driver is being stingy with the heat. I can see it turned down to the lowest setting“). Sometimes, it’s just weird (“The driver is a dead-ringer for Wayne Knight“).
It sounds like Commuter Gal composes these from her phone mid-ride. As a collection, they give an excellent impression of range of casual carpool experiences.
2/14/11 – It’s a little drizzly and overcast, but no standing in line for the riders – a long line of rides is waiting for us. I hop into a Valentine-Day-Red Chevrolet truck – a Silverado. Very comfy and even some leg room in the back. The driver is a polite fellow with very short hair, practically bald and a weird-looking beard on his chin. He’s wearing camouflage clothing. A small green fish chochkee dangles from the mirror, looks like a bass. Traffic is bad, but the carpool lane has a definite advantage this morning and we make the 30+ mile commute in under an hour.
2/2/11 – A huge line of cars all the way around the block. I’m the only rider, at least for the moment. I get into the back seat of a lovely, luxurious Cadillac. A very stylish lady is at the wheel in a wonderful black & white checkered pant suit. She’s model thin. A great hair cut and perfect manicure. I want this car and that haircut! The car reminds me of the Chryslers my parents always used to have – big, leathery, roomy. This one has a sunroof, and a super large gps screen. It’s a beautiful sunny morning and there will be more of the same today and for the rest of the week. Almost impossible to imagine the howling snowstorms going on in the east. But the bright sunny light on Groundhog Day means Mr. Groundhog has seen his shadow and we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter. Mmm. We roll past Berkeley and the view of the city in brilliant light and shadow is reminiscent of an Edward Hopper painting.
1/11/11 – I’m in a Honda sedan, with Christmas decor hanging from the mirror – snowflakes, a silver angel with gold wings, a bell, plus a company parking pass. The driver takes an extra passenger, so we’re four in the car, and I see that she unabashedly accepts $1.25 from each of us. I wonder if she does that every time. The driver is youngish, wearing a jaunty black cap with a little brim. Traffic’s heavy, but the carpool lane moves along with no trouble.
Want to create your own new commuting experiences? Give casual carpool a try.

Carpool Showdown

Have you seen Cash Cab on the Discovery Channel? It’s a simple concept – a hurried New Yorker hops into a taxi cab only to find out it’s a Cash Cab! They answer questions for money as they approach their destination, and have to leave with their winnings when they give an incorrect answer.
KOFY-TV brought the Cash Cab concept to the Bay Area with Carpool Showdown. What the Bay Area lacks in taxis, we make up for in Casual Carpool. The show gives three unsuspecting casual carpoolers the chance to win cash on their way to work for answering questions, spotting Volkswagon Beetles, and other acts of hilarity.
You can catch Carpool Showdown on KOFY, Channel 13, at 9 pm on Sundays. Archived episodes are available online.

Ready to give casual carpooling a try? Find your location below.

Already a casual carpooler? Share your experiences in the comments.

How have tolls affected Casual Carpool?

For over 30 years, casual carpoolers invited strangers into their cars to avoid paying a toll on the Bay Bridge. This uncommon act saved everyone both money and time, and was good for more than a few good stories.
On July 1 of last year, the the MTC began charging a $2.50 toll on the Bay Bridge carpool lane. How has this affected casual carpool?

  • Each day, about 5,000 fewer cars use the carpool lane on the Bay Bridge.
  • Many more drivers are using the non-carpool lane before 5 am and after 10 am (and getting a lower toll than peak period drivers).
  • BART ridership is up 8% during the morning rush.
  • The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is on track to raise an extra $164 million a year that will go towards dozens of transit and highway projects throughout the Bay Area.
  • Commute delays dropped about 15% (from 27 to 23 minutes) compared to the previous year according to the Bay Area Toll Authority.

But how has the toll affected the experience of casual carpool, itself?
There still seems to be some uncertainty on toll etiquette. Browsing various blogs and casual carpool sites, it looks like consensus is beginning to form on how to handle the toll.
If as a driver, you would prefer to have passengers contribute to the toll, or if as a passenger you cannot contribute, straighten this out before getting in the car. One of the tenants of casual carpool is that you never accept a passenger/ride that makes you uncomfortable. This includes payment. Just wait for another passenger or another ride.
If you are collecting contributions towards the toll, try not to ask for more than the value of the toll. $2.50 splits evenly between two passengers, but not three. Do your best to divide evenly. Asking $1 each from three people makes more sense than trying to get the $1.25 two-person rate from three people. If you end up ahead at the end of the week, consider paying it forward and giving a free ride to someone that needs it.
Krista Michell, a Pinole resident quoted in the SF Examiner, called turning a profit on casual carpool “disgusting,” saying “it kind of goes against the whole idea of the car-pooling system.”
Another rider on reports being asked to exit the car before the TransBay Terminal (the standard stop) because she didn’t have the requested $1.25. “All this over a dollar.”
Commuting is hard enough. Don’t make it harder on each other.
How have the July 2010 toll changes affected your commute?