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mobile loaves and fishes

By enelson
Monday, April 24th, 2006 at 8:07 pm in Carpooling, casual carpools.

There is nothing so sweet in this chaotic autopolis we suffer through as a home-grown solution to a seemingly intractable problem.

Most of the time, we need cash (and I will be just as quick to argue this). We need thousands for studies, millions for new buses and billions for a new bridge.

But the Bay Area is home to one of the thriftiest transportation solutions known to Western Civilization, if you don’t include walking.

I first encountered this phenomenon in Washington, D.C. Now, D.C. is about as far from home-grown as you can get in the American consciousness. Still, there they were: The “scrapers” and the “slugs.”

Slugs are people who need a ride. Scrapers are drivers who need riders. It seemed somewhat naughty and dangerous, lining up to catch a ride with a total stranger who just wanted you to fill seats in his or her car.

But it works outside federal departments, it works at the Pentagon and it works out in the far suburbs of Virginia, where people get together to carpool spontaneously. I talked to a lieutenant colonel, ribbons and all, as he waited to bum a ride.

Finally, I jumped into a car, and woosh! Away we went, scooting past miles of stop-and-go traffic on I-395 on the HOV-3 lanes, which have the same rules as the I-80 carpool lanes here, except that they’re totally separate, with gates to reverse the flow of traffic at midday.

Being a newcomer to the Bay Area, I have yet to investigate the wonders of the “casual carpoolers,” as they are somewhat benignly known here. I like to think of them as miracle workers, doing what many multi-million-dollar transportation agencies have failed to do.

Thus ends today’s sermon. In closing, I ask that you casual carpoolers out there help spread the gospel with me: Share your stories. How did you get started? How is it working for you? Where can I catch a ride or pick up riders?

I’m a little wary of talking about this, because the beauty of the slug line is that it eschews authority and authority wants little to do with it, mainly for liability reasons. Even worse, one tansportation PR maven confided that some of the more organized carpool efforts see the slugs and scrapers as competition.

So share your stories. However well it works now, the traffic on I-80 tells me that not enough people know about it.


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