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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-13-053    Date:  May 2013
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-13-053
Date: May 2013

 

Exploratory Advanced Research Program

Casual Carpooling Focus Group Study

SESSION FINDINGS BY LOCATION

In this section, findings are presented from two perspectives. The first set represent the insights drawn from the interviews with riders and passengers, regardless of their location and covers the knowledge levels leading to the decision to participate and attitudes and practices related to their current behavior. This is then followed by the key observations drawn from the interviews by study location. The topics covered in the latter section are organized as follows:

  1. Knowledge leading to decision to participate.

  2. Current behavior.

  3. System guidelines or improvements.

  4. Real-time ridesharing (RTR) pilot program (applies only to the Washington, DC, region participants whose commutes have been impacted by BRAC).

Washington, DC, Region

Participant Summary

As shown in table 1, 34 individuals participated in the Washington area focus groups (12 attended the Fort Belvoir discussion conducted on May 22, 2012, and 11 were in each of the two focus groups held on May 23, 2012). Experience with casual carpooling among participants ranged from a few months to more than 10 years. Most participants who considered themselves passengers also had experience as drivers.

The majority of the participants casual carpool daily to and from work. While work is the primary reason for casual carpooling, participants also casual carpool when traveling to the airport (and sometimes plan their flights around casual carpooling hours).

Key Findings

Real-Time Ridesharing Pilot Program

In addition, the Washington region focus group participants were asked to write down their first reactions to a pilot program using an RTR software system that was going to enable real-time ridesharing along the I-95/395 corridor from Fredericksburg, VA, to Washington, DC—designed primarily to serve commuters relocated because of BRAC—that matches drivers and riders as they  travel; riders would pay drivers via an electronic payment system based on distance traveled (for more information, see appendix A, section D). Participants were handed a sheet of paper, with a description of the program, and were then asked to (1) write down their initial reactions or thoughts about the pilot program; and (2) indicate whether they would use the real-time smartphone application.

Discussion Summary

Knowledge Leading to Decision to Participate

Current Behavior

System Guidelines and Improvements

General Feedback Regarding a Real-time Ridesharing Pilot Program

 

Houston, TX, Region

Participant Summary

A total of 16 individuals participated in the focus groups on July 11, 2012 in Houston; 6 participants attended the 5:30 p.m. session and 10 attended the second session at 7:30 p.m. Experience with casual carpooling among participants ranged from 1 to 25 years. Most participants who considered themselves passengers also had experience as drivers.

The participants in Houston included a mix of casual carpoolers who initiate their commute from the Addicks and Kingsland Park-and-Ride lots (Katy Freeway) or the Northwest Station Park-and-Ride lot (Highway 290) where riding the bus is also an option. Most travel to or near downtown for work.

Key Findings

Time and cost savings were most frequently cited as the motivations for participating in casual carpooling.

Casual carpooling is largely a morning practice; in the afternoon, passengers rely more on transit for their return ride to the park-and-ride lot.

Overall, participation levels in casual carpooling have dropped over time, particularly on the Katy Freeway, because of recent actions: highway reconstruction that widened the roadway (increased the number of lanes), the introduction of HOT lanes (and related fees), and maintenance of HOV restrictions (with waivers of toll for compliant vehicles). These actions combined had a significant impact on congestion, motivating former casual carpool passengers to drive.

Participants in Houston exhibit friendly behavior with other casual carpoolers. With the exception of the Vallejo groups, the casual carpool culture in Houston is more convivial than the culture described by the focus group participants in the San Francisco and Washington regions. That is, focus group participants readily shared that casual carpoolers regularly engage in conversation, sit in the front passenger seat next to the driver if no one else is in the vehicle, and form relationships outside of the casual carpool environment, both personal and professional. It was not an unusual practice for drivers to go out of their way to take a passenger to their final destination in bad weather; to open their trunk so that passengers could place luggage, boxes, and briefcases in it; and with regard to payment for a ride, it was frequently perceived as an insult to offer payment to the driver.

Very few, if any, disadvantages of casual carpooling were shared among participants, indicating overall satisfaction with the system.

Discussion Summary

Knowledge Leading to Decision to Participate

Current Behavior

System Guidelines and Improvements

Because of such challenges, instead of picking up passengers, some drivers consider other options for their return trip, sometimes preferring to stay at work late to avoid the traffic or selecting an alternate route for going home. One driver, who lives in northwest Houston, on occasion, picks up passengers who are headed west toward the Addicks Park-and-Ride lot (along the Katy Freeway).

 

San Francisco, CA, Region

Participant Summary

A total of 33 individuals participated in the focus groups (13 and 12 in each of two groups in Oakland conducted on August 22, 2012, and 8 in American Canyon, near Vallejo, on August 23, 2012). Experience with casual carpooling among participants ranged from less than a year to more than 25 years. Most participants who considered themselves passengers also had experience as drivers. Most of these participants were unfamiliar with the term “slugging.”

Key Findings

Casual carpoolers in the Oakland and Berkeley areas perceive the dynamic, organic nature of casual carpooling to be consistent with the area’s culture, in general, making participants value the system very highly. For Vallejo, the benefits of casual carpooling, including time savings and avoiding transfers, far exceed those of other available modes of transportation, including the ferry, bus, and BART.

The degree to which participants feel a sense of community varies by location. Those in Berkeley and Oakland find little opportunity to build relationships (it is less common to ride with the same driver or passenger on more than one occasion), and in some cases do not consider meeting new people a primary benefit of casual carpooling. In contrast, Vallejo participants feel a sense of community.

The driver and passenger relationship varies by location as well. While those initiating their trip from Oakland or Berkeley generally exhibit a lower level of sensitivity toward persons they are riding with, those originating from Vallejo demonstrate higher levels of sensitivity; for instance, they are unwilling to appear rude to the driver or other passengers.

Participants, particularly in Oakland and Berkeley, are very committed to the casual carpooling system and are dedicated users. In fact, participants stated if they had to move from their current residence, one of their critical criteria when selecting a new residential location would be its proximity to a casual carpool pickup/dropoff location. Furthermore, several participants in these areas travel on a bus or walk (or both) several blocks, up to 2 mi (3.2 km), to access casual carpool pickup/dropoff locations.

Casual carpoolers are motivated to participate because of time and cost savings associated with using the HOV lanes and time and cost savings associated with using the HOV lanes on the toll bridges. (Carpoolers pay a reduced toll charge when crossing Bay Area bridges; most of the casual carpoolers cross just one bridge, but Vallejo participants cross two bridges and save two bridge tolls).

The system primarily operates westbound (into San Francisco from Oakland and Vallejo) for several reasons:

Discussion Summary

Knowledge Leading to Decision to Participate

Current Behavior      

System Guidelines and Improvements

 

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