What are Casual Car Pools?

"Casual car pools" or "ad hoc car pools" are informal car pools that form when drivers and passengers meet — without specific prior arrangement — at designated locations. There are a number of East Bay meeting locations, which are listed on the main page. Drivers drop passengers off at Fremont and Mission Streets (or nearby) in downtown San Francisco. Sometimes the driver will indicate where they are going after that (north of Market, for example, or even to Civic Center) and offer to take passengers farther.

Casual car pools are quick and convenient. They are quick because in the morning car pools are able to bypass the long delays at the Bay Bridge toll plaza. In the evenings you can take advantage of the car pool-only on-ramp to the Bridge, and car pool lanes on I-80 and I-880.

Casual car pools are convenient because no pre-arrangement or fixed schedule is necessary. There are usually sufficient numbers of drivers and riders so that you can get a car pool within a matter of minutes.

Casual car pool sites for rides to downtown San Francisco have been in existence in the East Bay for more than 30 years.

"Rules" and Etiquette

Casual car pools are not "run" by any organization or authority. They have worked well for over 30 years based on a few simple rules that have evolved among drivers and passengers.

Regular car pools on the Bay Bridge and I-80 are required to have three or more people in a car. An exception is made for cars and trucks that have only two seats. Such vehicles may use the car pool lanes when there are two people in the vehicle. (Note: most pick-ups do not count as two-seat vehicles. The number of seats/seat-belts the vehicle was manufactured with – including jump seats – is the official "count.")

Tolls for car pools started July 1, 2010.  As of this writing (July 2) it's not clear that a standard has evolved for sharing the toll.  Riders can volunteer a dollar or so, and drivers can accept or not; drivers can request a dollar or so from each rider, and riders can provide it or not.  (On the discussion board "Driver C" suggested this phrasing: "Are you able to contribute towards the toll?") 

People are usually careful to form as many car pools as possible. This means no more than three people per car. In the afternoon in San Francisco, however, if there is still a substantial line of passengers after 6 pm, drivers are urged to take as many people as their vehicles can hold so as many passengers as possible can get rides home.

People are quite mindful of the "first-come, first-served" aspect of the lines. Avoid the ire of your fellow commuters: don't "line-jump."

On the other hand, riders and drivers are free to wait for another driver/rider. For example, a woman may not want to get into a two-seat car with a male driver, or a woman driver may prefer to wait for a female rider. As far as we've seen, such choices are respected without comment or disapproval.

Food. Passengers should assume that food and drink are not allowed in driver's cars.

Music. Drivers should be considerate of passengers when listening to music, news or talk radio. Rear speakers and subwoofers produce much more sound than side door speakers, so please keep your volume in check.

Drive cautiously. Drivers are encouraged to drive extra cautiously when commuting with passengers, particularly when it comes to lane changes to and from the diamond lane, and also with regard to cell-phone use (especially without a hands-free set). There have been more than a few accidents involving casual carpool vehicles. Passengers notice and even gossip about the wild drivers. This may cost you time waiting in line if passengers skip your vehicle.

Seatbelts. Cars should have functioning seatbelts, and passengers should put on their seatbelts. It's the law, and the driver could get a ticket if passengers are not buckled up.

Please be mindful of business and residential neighbors. Drivers should avoid blocking driveways and side streets while waiting for passengers. Never stop in a bus zone. The fine is now more than $250!

As far as anyone seems to know, over the history of East Bay casual carpooling, there have been no untoward incidents. The "three-per-car" requirement has helped. A little caution and common sense also have helped. Passengers can always decline a ride. For example, female passengers have been known to decline rides in two-seat cars. They simply let another passenger go first, and wait for a larger vehicle.

Talking. Drivers generally should be the ones to initiate any conversation. Passengers should keep in mind that some drivers need or prefer to keep their minds focused on the road rather than chat.

Passengers are encouraged to be considerate of other passengers who might have tall or large bodies which more comfortably fit in front seats than back.

In the afternoon, if you are a passenger in a vehicle which crosses a toll bridge after 7 pm, you are urged to offer enough to cover more than your share of the toll (for example, $2 per passenger instead of $1 in a 3-person carpool). This will encourage drivers to continue picking up passengers later into the evening, plus it's still a great deal for the passenger.

In the morning, drivers are encouraged to offer an approximate final destination in San Francisco (for example, Civic Center, South of Market, Financial District or cross streets). Passengers greatly appreciate riding for a few extra blocks if your commute routes partially overlap. You might even meet a permanent carpool passenger!

Enjoy the ride!

Casual car pool news home