When film and TV star Kristen Bell accidentally joined a carpool recently, she seemed to pass through all three stages of ride sharing over the course of a few minutes.
A) Surprise. She meant to order a taxi and didn’t realize she had ordered a ride share until the driver stopped for friendly strangers. Most of us need a pretty big bubble for our personal space so a carpool can feel like a very long sideways elevator ride at first.
B) Awkward silence. Bell tweeted live during the ride, offering insights into the experience from her perspective. An early tweet read, “No one is talking. This silence is the only thing more awkward than if all of us were talking.” Everyone eases into carpooling at their own rate.
C) Delight. The others in the car started singing along with the radio and that broke the ice. Bell ended up having a great time. A simple logistical problem of getting from one place to another became a fun experience that brightened her day.
The Ups and Downs of Carpooling in America
Americans have had a complex relationship with carpooling over the past century. Cars were futuristic tech when Henry Ford rolled out his Model T in 1914. Carpooling was one of the coolest adventures around and everyone wanted to share a ride. Entrepreneurs rode around in “jitneys” charging 5 cents for the thrill of it all. The closest equivalent today is the stretch limo that students rent for prom.
As more and more families could afford a car, it became a more intimate space. World War II turned the dial back the other way. Gas rationing and resource scarcity encouraged ride shares and government posters read, “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler! Join a Car-Sharing Club today!”
After the war, economic prosperity opened the way for families to buy two or more cars. Ride sharing became more rare, but the 1973 oil crisis ended that era. The rise of cities, toll roads and gas prices made ride sharing reasonable, more economical and more popular again.
Since then, even when gas prices plummeted, some Americans preferred to carpool in concern over pollution, resource consumption and traffic jams. Cities have spent a great deal of time and money creating high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to encourage carpools. From their standpoint, it’s more efficient, more environmentally responsible and results in fewer accidents.
Carpooling with Kids in the 21st Century
Today, the majority of Americans carpool. At least 51 percent do so with their families, but they call it the “Mom taxi.” In many ways, Europeans are several years ahead of the curve in terms of ride sharing. Child booster seat maker BoostApak surveyed 2000 British moms to reveal that they drive their kids 1,248 miles per year to school events and sports club meetings.
In America, mothers drive both further and more often, taking five or more kid transport trips daily totally 29 miles on average. That adds up to 10,585 miles per year. American moms spend more time behind the wheel than the average parent spends on primary child care, according to Nationwide Parent Transportation Survey and The Americans Use of Time Project.
Just think how much productive family time is lost while all those pounds of carbon dioxide from exhaust fumes damage the world’s air quality. There’s a better way to live, but it took the arrival of mobile tech to make it practical.
The Rideshare Rennaisance
We are entering a new era where the sharing economy and mobile devices are converging to make carpools more desirable and communications more reliable. SkoolCommute, which was specifically designed as a safe ride sharing option for K-12 kids, is part of this larger drive to deploy advanced technology in making ride sharing more practical. Other initiatives include for-profit startups like UberPool, Lyft Line and Sidecar, as well as an increasing variety in ride sharing and matching services across North America Although Kristen Bell was uptight at first, she learned to “Let It Go,” just like the song from her popular Disney film. The long-term benefits of carpooling and ride sharing are just beginning to ripple out across this new world.