Considering Carpools

Morning traffic stacks up along Highway 101 just north of

With gas prices continuing to rise, sharing a ride with someone
else might not be a bad idea
By Carolyn Straub Special to South Valley Newspapers

Your teeth clench. Your brain freezes. Your mood falls flat. It’s 5pm, and you’re waiting at the knuckle of Highway 101 and Leavesley Road in Gilroy. Never mind a few miles down, where it crosses Highway 25 to go to Hollister. You should have been at the house a half-hour ago.

OK, you don’t live in Manhattan. But it’s a traffic tie up nonetheless.

Cheers. Through Friday of this week is National Rideshare Week, and it’s being observed in San Benito and Santa Clara counties. Whether a carpool, vanpool or other means of sharing a ride, leaving the driving to someone else is a cost-saving and ecologically friendly habit.

The deal is, commuters register online at www.RideshareWeek.com or by calling (888) BAY-POOL to commit to a one-day stint with an alternative transportation method. Signers-up get a chance to win prizes, too, said Shelley Gesicki of Commute Alternatives of Monterey, which sponsors the event along with San Benito County Rideshare.

“Just one day,” said Gesicki. “Carpooling can cut your commute costs in half; riding your bike or walking to work cuts costs completely.”

Prove it, you say.

“With a commute of 100 miles, the annual cost for a person who drives alone is about $13,000,” said Veronica Lezama of San Benito Rideshare, in its 23rd year of Rideshare Week. With another person sharing the daily drudge, the cost drops to half, $6,500, Lezama said, quoting figures from a recent AAA Automobile Association survey.

“Last year, we had 250 Hollister area participants in Rideshare Week. This year, we’d like 300 to 350,” Lezama said.

Cheryl Pritchett of Gilroy wants to double up and commute to work. Her husband Bill already carpools to his job in downtown San Jose with the VTA.

“I would like to save money on gas,” said Cheryl, who has worked for the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose for the past three years but is caught in the gas crunch.

Pritchett drives a four-door sedan, and last week her gas bill was around $3.10 a gallon for premium grade at Costco in Gilroy.

“It’s not that much of a hassle, but gas is getting expensive,” Pritchett said.

With more than one occupant in your vehicle, you get the green light and officially are allowed to drive in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes, marked with a diamond. The lucky are allowed to use the lanes during desginated rush-hour times, morning and evening. Most solo drivers aren’t supposed to, but if they do, they’ll incur a $271 penalty. However, if you own a hybrid vehicle, you can get a special Department of Motor Vehicles sticker and drive in the carpool lane, too, even if you’re driving alone.

One of the honchos of alternative transportation in Northern California is 511 Rideshare. Dial 511 or go to the Web site at www.511.org, and you’ll have access to everything you’ve ever wanted to know about alternative transportation, including where to find it in the South Valley.

“We’re pro-carpooling,” said Brigetta Smith of CalTrans in Oakland. “We are putting HOV diamond lanes in where they didn’t exist. Dial 511 and talk to a person for local carpooling in the Bay Area, or just go online.”

The 511 Web site provides commuter lists of nearby folks who want to carpool or vanpool, and it also gives information about how to schedule and rent a van. The site, along with Caltrain’s Web site at www.caltrain.com, features a gas calculator that provides estimates of how much gas you could save by carpooling. In San Benito County, go online for the same services at www.sanbenitorideshare.org or call (831) 637-POOL.

Seeing the dollar amount that could stay in your pocket can be an eye-opening experience, especially if you frequently drive areas that are notoriously more congested.

“Highway 87 is the ultimate nightmare,” said Brandi Hall, a community relations specialist with the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority. Hall, who commutes down to work from the north Bay Area, carpools a few days a week with someone she knows.

Down in South Valley, you may fare no better at the 101 interchanges at Highway 25 exiting to Hollister, at the Highway 156 exit and at the Highway 152 off-ramp to Leavesley Road.

If you commute to San Francisco, the top-offender routes are the Highway 101 connectors to Highway 92 and the San Mateo Bridge, and also to Millbrae and the San Francisco International Airport, according to Hall.

“The worst, however, is 101 at Highway 84 and the Dumbarton Bridge,” Hall said.

Construction on Highway 87 that began Sept. 12 eventually will include carpool lanes, Hall said. Plans are in the works to construct carpool lanes on Highway 101 from Cochrane Road in Morgan Hill to San Benito County over the next few years, Smith said. Carpool lanes already exist on 101 south leading to Highway 85 north.

But buddying up in a car isn’t the only alternative.

“There are other options, too,” Hall said, such as busing, training, biking and walking to work.

Are there any incentives if you share a ride? Yes: commuter tax benefits, an emergency or guaranteed ride home if you need to leave work early, free bridge tolls, access to park-and-ride lots and other special incentives depending on the county you live in.

It’s enough to make you think twice about how you get to work each day.

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