Carpooling: Nice Idea, Hard In Practice


Carpooling feels like a much untapped aid to easing traffic congestion - but is it just a nice feel good idea that’s hard to put into practice?

It’s interesting to note that,as of today, 1048 commuters have registered on the Wellington city’s Let’s Carpool site, run by the regional council.

But the real issue is does it work in practice in making motorists change their habits or are these just people who like the ideas so register support?

I’ve often wondered if people try it for a couple of times and then find it just doesn’t work out as you have to co-ordinate your working times exactly with someone else, who may decide to hang late at work or do something else.

Because of the responsibility of picking someone up, you are under more stress to meet exact deadlines in the morning.

The council says it can’t say how many of those are actively carpooling or how many times per week, but all they have one or more carpool matches.

This means that there are sufficient numbers of people in the programme now for multiple matches to occur for those looking to carpool either as a driver or passenger.

Greater Wellington conducted a survey late last year of 118 people who drove alone when they registered for Let’s Carpool.

Of these, 19 had tried carpooling or were currently carpooling regularly since signing up to the website. 23 had contacted someone off the site to initiate a match and 20 had been contacted by someone.

Almost a quarter had changed their main means of travel to work from drive alone since registering. Most were now travelling with someone else, some were taking public transport and others were cycling or walking to work.

Of the 118 people contacted, 84 indicated they were still interested in carpooling. Many had more carpooling options now than when they signed up initially but had not revisited the site since.

The council says most people didn’t realise that they were not advised automatically when more carpooling options became available and that they needed to visit the site regularly to see if there were more matches so they will soon be sending each registrant their latest match report.

The council concludes that  the main factors that seem to prevent people from starting to carpool are:

  • difficult working hours that started too early for others
  • both parties waiting for the other to contact them first
  • the desire for people to take their own car, instead of travelling as a passenger.

None of that’s a surprising revelation.
So nice idea, good in principle, but getting people to be able to adopt it as a daily ritual is not going to be easy, and it’s probably understandable why.

Anyone tried it?




  1. max says:

    Some people in our office have (informally, not as part of a scheme).

    It is probably a lot more attractive in large companies, as part of travel plans and so on. Even if the guy down the hall is not your favourite pal, sharing with him is a lot less intimidating (and probably less hassle) than with random strangers.

  2. Nick R says:

    Carpooling is by and large a fools errand in my opinion, and it will never make anything more than a token contribution to transport.

    Why? Because it going against the very reasons people drive in the firstplace: carpooling removes the time flexibility of driving (by having to stick to a time schedule), it removes the route flexibility (by requiring a sucession of pick up or drop off points), and in undermines the point-to-point nature (by having to circle around picking up or dropping off people).

    There is a small niche for carpooling among people that work together and live close to one another (or live together and work close) and who keep very similar regular hours.

    Apart from that it is a dogs breakfast of a transport concept. If people are going to have non-personal travel, then public transport is the better solution. If they need private transport then they the don’t want to be encumbered by other people’s trips.

  3. max says:

    While I agree that it isn’t a panacea, you are being a bit too harsh on it my opinion, Nick. It does save a LOT on fuel costs if the circumstances fit.

    It is also a more attractive scenario if it allows you to use transit lanes. I have also often tried to incentivise it as part of travel demand projects, by giving car poolers priority for scarce parking spaces (but since most developments in NZ have lots of parking, and where they don’t the bosses like to keep the spaces to themselves, the idea had limited appeal).

    But as everyone should know, a few % can make a big change in traffic congestion, especially (but not only) if a few percent are saved via each such “fool’s errand” method.

  4. Rory says:

    If you have lockers in the office, stock up a mini lectric scooter for errands. There is no felixibility on having to get to work by 8 am or is there?

  5. joust says:

    A workmate who lives in northcote and usually catches buses to work in the city. Regularly gets offers of a lift to work from strangers pulling up to the bus stop, so they can use the T3 lane.

    Wasn’t there a story awhile back about northcote college students offering their services to travel the length of the T3 lane with people!

  6. Nick R says:

    Perhaps I am being too harsh, certainly it can useful from the individuals perspective under the right conditions. I just mean from a transport planning perspective it is never going to achieve a significant proportion of mode share.
    All too often you see carpooling used as a sort of cop-out by the road lobby, the old ‘if only people would behave properly we wouldn’t have congestion’ line. The thing where they claim somthing like 20% of cars with carpoolers would solve all congestion issues, even though it is basically impossible to get more than a percent or two.

  7. Luke says:

    I think the T2 and T3 lanes are a cop out as well. I guess the original idea was that they would encourage carpooling. However I think the only thing they do is encourage parents to drive kids to school.
    T2/T3 lanes should be bus lanes only, or charge lanes. This is where people are able to pay several dollars to use the lanes outside peak hours. This would help prioritise important traffic that have no option but to go by road. Not sure if the technology is cost effective enough for this yet though.

  8. Richard says:

    I agree with Luke about T2 lanes. There is some merit in T3 but T2 is a lane for the drive you there brigade. If somebody drives a passenger to work/college this vehicle is really a half person car because the car is driven twice as far to carry one person to work than if they drove themselves. T2 is therefore T2(the genuine ones) and T½(the drive you there types).

    I car pooled for a couple of years and frankly it only worked because we lived very close to each other on the North Shore and worked in the same office in Auckland central. The three of us all worked exactly the same hours which is less common today and we could use the Onewa Road priority lane saving 15 mins. or so.

    Simpler to use public transport

  9. Carl says:

    Here in London, the Unitary Development Plan (~ NZ District Plans) specify very low maximum parking requirements for new developments. Restricting parking forces people to carpool, use public transport or cycle. In addition developers wanting less that the maximum parking provision are required to produce Travel Plans demonstrating how they will encourage people to use sustainable transport alternatives.

  10. max says:

    “wanting less that the maximum parking provision”

    Uhm, are you sure you wrote that correctly? Should that be “more”?

  11. max says:

    Travel Plans, by the way, are a standard requirement (even if not official yet) in resource consents these days.

    And 90% of them are useless pieces of paper. Council is now trying to push this down to 80%* by making the requirements for what has to be included in them more stringent.

    *(I am kidding of course, but it’s still true).

  12. Carl says:

    @max - No less… For example, developers for apartments try and get away with no parking to maximise the development area. Without alternatives encourages on-street parking which is frowned upon. Of course it’s easy to argue for low parking provision in a city with fantastic public transport.

    I wasn’t aware that travel plans are being required. That’s great… if they’re actively monitored and maintained.

  13. max says:

    “For example, developers for apartments try and get away with no parking to maximise the development area.”

    I work a lot with developers, and I disagree. In Auckland at least, they work to get away with as MUCH parking as possible, because that’s seen as a big selling point for those apartments.

    And I personally have no issue with “under providing” parking for apartments. The so-called downsides for the city are pretty irrelevant when you consider the disavantages of our constant car obsession. And anyone buying one or renting one will be fully aware of the situation, so no problem there either.

    “I wasn’t aware that travel plans are being required. That’s great… if they’re actively monitored and maintained.”

    They are not, and will never be to a good degree except for the most important ones (too much work for overworked, privatised and staff-starved Councils). That’s why most of them don’t work, in my experience. Toothless tigers.


Leave a Comment


XHTML: You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>