What is 'Casual Carpool'? Here's why Bay Area commuters are advocating for it to make a comeback

Tara Campbell Image
Friday, October 21, 2022
Bay Area traffic prompting calls for 'Casual Carpool' to return
What is 'Casual Carpool'? Here's why Bay Area commuters battling traffic are advocating for it to make a comeback.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Bay Bridge traffic is creeping back up to pre-pandemic levels, prompting calls for the return of a popular carpool service.

"I used it on my daily commute to the city because I work downtown in San Francisco. But since the pandemic, there haven't been a lot of cars that want to take the ride over here to the city, so I've had to switch to bus," said Kelsey Chan, referring to a service called Casual Carpool.

The grassroots service has been around for decades. Drivers pick up passengers at multiple locations across the East Bay. Two passengers are the ticket, putting them into the much speedier -- and cheaper -- carpool lane. But the pandemic has taken a toll.

"I think it's just a combination of people just being a little nervous about having strangers in their car and just the demand for people coming into the city now isn't as much, because there's more remote work," Chan said.

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"Toll bridge volumes, particularly on the Bay Bridge, are running 90% to 95% of pre-pandemic levels," said John Goodwin, with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Jesse MacQuiddy used to pick up passengers in Emeryville prior to the pandemic.

"I saved at least a half an hour on my commute every day, and also, I could have a more consistent commute," he said. "So, I would do it again if there're people there to be able to pick up."

"I hear anecdotally that casual carpooling is creeping back to life," said Goodwin. "But because it's casual carpooling we don't really have any statistics that would buttress that argument.

At ABC7 News we wanted to see for ourselves, so reporter, Tara Campbell spent the morning at a popular pick-up spot in Oakland reporting back: "There are many cars passing by, but I really have no idea if they are here to pick people up, or they're just getting from point A to point B."

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There are no signs here indicating a pick-up spot, so drivers and passengers simply have to rely on each other to be there.

Tara Campbell: "I just spoke with a couple of women who say they have colleagues who used the Casual Carpool service prior to the pandemic and told me the pickup spot is actually over here on this side of the street. So here I am -- again waiting, but it's a similar situation. There are cars pulling up, slowing down, some even stopping, but I really have no idea of knowing if they're here for the carpool service. I have started asking, but so far no luck."

One of the people we asked was Blair Biddle, who's hoping to see the service make a comeback.

"I used to take it every day and it's sorely missed. What do you think it's going to take to get it back? I don't know. I think the city has to step in and organize it. This lane get's parked in and it's just not organized anymore," Biddle said.

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