The Undercover Carpooler

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A rare glimpse into the life of a casual carpooler in San Francisco

Text of The Undercover Carpooler

  • 1. The Undercover Carpooler

2. The first morning was a mess. More to the point, I was a mess. Im usually hyper-organized, but today Im running late, no time for breakfastwhere are my keys? Wait, dont I need a dollar to pay for my ride? After stealing $5 from my boyfriends wallet (sorry Gavin!) Im finally on my way. This is my first morning as a Casual Carpooler and clearly Im in an excellent mood. Preparation 3. At 8:08 am I arrive at the North Berkeley casual carpool line and its frantic; at least it appears frantic to me. The line of riders is long, and the steady stream of cars cant seem to pull up fast enough. As the full carpools pull away from the sidewalk, traffic flows passed and seems unaffected. First Impressions 4. As the line of riders shortens in front of me and grows behind me I can see how systematic this whole activity is: a car pulls up, the two riders at the front of the line step forward, the first rider gets in the back of the car and the second in the front, the car pulls off. Its a simple process repeated thousands of times daily. I saw very little deviation aside from cars occasionally offering to take three riders, or the rare group of riders letting their turn go so they can ride together in the next car. There is no hesitation about joining a car, no question, no taking pictures of license plates nothing. Its simple and it works. The System 5. As a car approaches, I take the back seat and follow the lead of my clearly more experienced counterpart she doesnt offer a dollar towards the toll, so I remain silent. The driver begins striking up a conversation. He starts small, but by the time we hit the highway the conversation is in full swing. We are busy sharing stories of casual carpools gone awry. Beginning with cars that smelled of smoke, moving on to the time our driver saw a (very lost) three-wheeler GoCar on the Bay Bridge, and then the story of the driver who missed the carpool lane and ended up on an access road underneath the bridge. All these tales are told with a grin and a wink, there is not an iota of fear or frustration evident in their voices. The Ride 6. As we near the city and I take in the skyline from the bridge, I am reminded of an old colleague of mine. Commuters are just like frogs he would say (to a usually very confused audience). Start them off in cold water and they dont realize they are being boiled, even as the temperature rises. Years after I first heard this it still rings true. We, the SOV commuters, are the frog. We accept a 30 min commute and as traffic increases slowly over time we accept it. Within a few years, we are wasting an hour a day over 200 hours a year sitting in traffic and we dont even notice. The human brain is a mysterious thing, capable of so much, capable even of fooling itself. The Frogs 7. Keep up-to-date or get in touch @iTresell Adapted from a blog at: Thanks to for the support on this piece * Statistics based on research run in 2014 by UC Berkeley and Carma Carpooling