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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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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


This discussion guide has been tailored to the Houston, TX, region to account for unique characteristics related to or affecting casual carpooling in this region.

Introduction 5 minutes


Section A: Knowledge leading to decision to participate 10 minutes
  1. How did you first hear/learn about casual carpooling? Probe on sources of initial information about system, word-of-mouth, seeing it in action, and employer’s role.

  2. What was it about casual carpooling that most intrigued you, or intrigued you enough to consider it as a means of commuting? Probe on economic/financial, environmental, other personal values.

    • What effect have gas prices had on your decisions?

  3. Did you have any initial concerns about it? What were they and what did you do to resolve them?

  4. Do you consider casual carpooling to be carpooling? Why or why not?

    • Why do you casual carpool instead of use a traditional carpool?

  5. How does casual carpooling compare, both good and bad, to other transportation options that are available to you?


Section B: Current behavior 30 minutes
  1. How long have you been participating in casual carpooling?

    • Confirm roles as a rider or driver.

    • In which location(s) do you participate and why did you choose that (those)?

    • We recognize that you all participate in casual carpooling for work. Have you ever used it or considered using it at a time other than for work (e.g., commuting to/from school or for some other purpose)? If yes, tell me about it.

  2. Tell me about your first experience.

    • Did you do any preparation work (email/talk to someone/Internet search) before you participated for the first time?

    • What did your family members, colleagues, or friends have to say about it when you first started casual carpooling? Over time, have their opinions changed?

  3. How often do you typically participate?

    • Is it always as a driver/rider?

    • Do you participate every day or just certain days?

    • What kinds of considerations or decisions do you make when you decide to use casual carpooling on a given day? Probe on participation preferences—weather, vehicle type, safety, commute time.

    • On days that you participate in casual carpooling, are there any changes to your routine to support your participation? Probe on whether they have changed work hours, altered routes, used a park-and-ride lot, used public transit part of the way, etc.

  4. What are the factors that drive or detract from personal participation?

    • To what extent is or is not safety an issue? Probe on gender, age, and other sociodemographic differences.

    • What do you consider when you decide to accept a rider/ride? Probe on whether the riders/drivers are always someone new or whether they look for someone in particular.

      • Would you deviate from your regular route to meet the needs of rider/driver?

      • Do you typically sit in a specific seat?

    • Do you ever decide not to accept or pass on a rider/ride? Why or why not? Probe on whether they look for certain characteristics of the rider/ride, vehicle type, or number of passengers, blue/white collar, etc.

      • To what extent do you “get to know” riders and drivers and make decisions on whether to ride with one based on past experience/hearsay?

    • What makes a ride/rider a “good one” and a “bad one”? Probe on conversation making, hygiene, dirty/clean vehicles, offer of payment, etc.

    • Do you feel part of a unique or special “community”? If yes, explain how? Do you think others would find this an attractive facet of casual carpooling?


Section C: System guidelines or improvements 15 minutes
  1. Overall, if you had to grade the casual carpooling “program” in Houston as it exists today, would you give it an A, B, C, D, or a failing grade of F? Explain why you gave it that grade.

  2. Are the numbers of participants (riders and drivers) sufficient to support the program and in the location you use?

  3. Have there been any changes in the past few years to the HOV rules or tolling that affected the casual carpooling system either positively or negatively? By affect the system I mean, for example, did the program participation (fewer or more drivers or passengers) change? Did it cause any other changes?

    • For Addicks/Kingsland and Katy Freeway users: In 2009, there was a move from one HOV lane to four managed lanes in which single-occupancy vehicles were allowed to use the HOV lane, but they have to pay for the use. Did that affect the system at all? If yes, tell me how.

    • For NW Freeway: There are HOV-2 and HOV-3 rules—do these affect the system?

      • 5 to 6:45 a.m., when HOV-2 is free?

      • 6:45 to 8 a.m., when HOV-2 vehicles pay $2 toll and HOV-3 is free?

      • 8 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 7 p.m., when HOV-2 is free?

  4. What could or should be done to improve the program or the location at which you participate? Probe on:

    • What tools are in place or should be in place to facilitate casual carpooling? Signage, electronic-software, agency partnership?

    • What is the best way to market/communicate the concept of casual carpooling to others?

  5. Part of the allure, according to some participants, is the “organic nature” or unstructured-ness of the program. Do you think formal rules should be adopted? Why or why not?

    • If yes, how should these rules be developed?

    • How would they be communicated?

    • What enforcement mechanisms (if any) would you support?  


Section D: Wrap-Up 5 or 10 minutes

The purpose of today’s group was to explore your opinions about casual carpooling, learn from your experience about casual carpooling and how it operates in the region, and see if you have any ideas about how FHWA and others can create more awareness of casual carpooling or provide tools to improve your experience. Do you have any final comments or suggestions?

The sponsor of this research from FHWA is also going to come into the room now and for anyone who has questions for him about casual carpooling, feel free to stay on.

Thank for time and sign for incentives.


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