Even small businesses can save big by supporting car pools.
Participants in the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization’s Cool to Pool Program include some of the region’s largest employers but it does not cater to them exclusively.
“Small companies tend to have more problems with parking than large companies,” said Elizabeth De Jesus, commuter services manager for the TPO.
Unlike their larger brethren, small businesses don’t have acres of surface parking or multi-level parking garages of their own. Small companies may pay for employee parking in large lots or struggle with space shortages, particularly in neighborhoods like San Marco or Hendricks.
Carpools can help businesses and employees save money on parking, trim commuting costs for workers and reduce pollution. They can also help employees recruit workers who might not otherwise own a car or have access to suitable transportation.
“It doesn’t matter how you look at it,” De Jesus said. “Whether it’s from air quality impact or the financial impact it has benefits all around.”
The TPO helps businesses—large and small—form carpools for workers by helping companies create programs, incentivize participation, recruit ridesharers and even match commuting partners. It even sets up web pages for companies with carpools.
Anyone can search for carpool partners on the TPO’s website (cooltopool.com), but working through employers can be more effective because their employees are already going to the same place.
“The possibility of finding a match is higher because you already have the destination,” De Jesus said. “You only have to find somebody who lives close to you to carpool.”
The TPO does lunch-and-learns for employers so that their employees can find partners. “People feel better when they match with somebody they know,” De Jesus said.
TPO representatives do zip code analyses and discuss the benefits of carpooling. When they do so, employees often realize that they have potential carpool partners and that together they can save money.
“Even carpooling once a week can help,” said Marci Larson, public affairs manager for the TPO. For example, carpooling or taking the bus once a week saves her $100 a month, based on her 22-mile roundtrip commute.
“It doesn’t mean you’re leaving your car behind forever,” Larson said. “You can save a little bit here, you can save a little there.”
The TPO’s Cool to Pool website includes a commuter cost calculator that accounts for often overlooked expenses like insurance, depreciation, maintenance and tires. It also calculates your annual greenhouse gas emissions so that you can gauge your environmental impact.
Carpooling allows participants to share gas costs and driving duties, which by itself can reduce stress, Larson said.
A huge benefit is the TPO’s Emergency Ride Home program that provides ride sharers up to four vouchers a year to pay for a taxi or rental car should they need one, as long as they document that they carpool at least three times a week.
The TPO’s administration of a rideshare program traces back decades but has evolved over the years. Once funded by the state and focused on supporting both car pools and van pools, the TPO’s efforts are now backed by federal dollars related to air quality and congestion mitigation, and emphasize car pools because they align more closely with the region’s commuting patterns. Traditionally van pools fare better in areas like South Florida, where commuters tend to travel farther. Northeast Florida residents are also hooked on their cars.
“Nobody wants to give it up unless it’s critical,” Larson said.
Mayo Clinic encourages local employees to carpool by offering preferential parking in gated parking lots.
“By encouraging our employees to carpool, leverage public transportation and finding ways for our employees to communicate about carpooling, they can take advantage of the opportunity and also of the opportunities from the TPO for the emergency ride home which provides a free ride home under certain situations, for instance, which of course allows employees to save on gas, wear and tear, etc.,” Neal Morgan, director of security, transportation, and telephone operations for Mayo Clinic wrote in response to questions about the carpooling programs that it has established with help from the TPO.
Mayo Clinic joined the Cool to Pool program three years ago. About 400 employees now carpool.
“We have made a very conscious effort to outreach to businesses,” Larson said, and the TPO will continue to do so.
“You must have a champion in your organization that says, ‘This makes perfect sense. It’s good for business.’”
Tips for a successful carpool
Successful carpooling requires ground rules to be set and agreed upon by all members. Here are some tips from the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization’s Cool to Pool program. Call (904) 306-7500 for more information about the Cool to Pool Program.
- Decide who drives when. Some carpools rotate driving responsibilities, while others have a dedicated driver. If there are members who wish to alternate driving, decide if it will be on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
- Determine your route and schedule. Establish the morning pick-up point(s). Try to choose a mutually convenient meeting place. Either pick up each carpooler at home, or meet in a central location like a carpool lot. Designate a place or places to meet for the trip home. Stick to your schedule. Make sure everyone knows the schedule and is notified of changes.
- Decide on a method for reimbursing driving expenses. If all members do not share the driving equally, agree how the costs will be shared and agree on payment dates.
- Decide how long the driver will wait for a passenger (usually no more than 2 or 3 minutes).
- Establish clear in-car policies. Discuss smoking, music taste and volume, food and drinks.
- Make it clear that the carpool is for a single purpose—commuting to and from work. Do not let it become a shopping or errand service unless all members agree.
- Establish a chain of communication. Identify one person as the carpool leader.
- If a driver or passenger is ill, the car won’t start or other issues arise, there should be an easy and clear arrangement for making adjustments. Make sure everyone has a list with each carpooler’s home and work phone numbers, and establish who is to be called when.
- Drive responsibly, wear seat belts and keep the vehicle in good repair. When there are passengers involved, there is no excuse for excessive speed, use of alcohol, or reckless driving.
- Check your insurance policy and notify all members of it.
- And finally, give the carpool a few weeks to get going—it usually takes a while to work out any “bugs” and to create a truly great carpool. If, despite your best efforts, it isn’t working – try again with another carpool.
Source: North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (cooltopool.com)