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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 San Francisco, CA, 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 most of you 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? Probe on vehicle safety and the added security at some Vallejo locations.

    • 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 a rider/driver?

      • Riders: Do you typically sit in a specific seat?

      • Drivers: Who decides where the passengers sit? Is it acceptable to take the front 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, offers of payment, etc.

    • Do you feel as 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 and around the San Francisco region 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.

    • Is there a difference in the system as it operates within San Francisco (for your trips home) from where you originate your commute (Oakland/Vallejo)? If so, what is it?

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

    • Drivers: What would you do if there were not enough passengers to support the system—would you continue driving alone, join an official carpool or rideshare program, or find a way to take transit? Something else?

    • Riders: What would you do if there were not enough drivers to support your commute—would you considering joining an official carpool or rideshare program or take transit? How would you commute?

  3. Let’s talk specifically about the changes in the past few years to the requirement for those qualifying as HOV having to pay the bridge toll and how 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?

    • Tell me about how the change affected you personally, from the perspective of a driver or passenger? Probe on how this has affected the incentive or motivation to casual carpool—time savings from HOV remains the same, but now there is not the cost savings if passengers help pay the toll.

    • How is it determined whether or not the passengers will contribute to the toll?

    • Talking with drivers, we learned that some only casual carpool on the way into San Francisco but not on their return when they don’t have to pay the bridge tolls. Does this affect your ability to get a return ride?

  4. I’m going to read you three statements. Tell me which you agree with most and then why:

    • I like the casual carpool system just the way it is, do not change a thing—it operates just fine.

    • I like the casual carpool system, but it could use some improvements over how it currently operates.

    • The casual carpool system could use a lot of improvement over how it currently operates.

  5. 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?

    • Right now, the system works pretty much without the involvement of a government agency, advocacy group, or private sector service. Do you see a role for any of these organizations to “take over” or assist with the system? Probe on how (communications, providing/covering the costs for security at parking lots, providing the tools discussed earlier).

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

  6. 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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