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Casual Carpool: Farewell, Free Ride, Farewell

| December 13, 2010
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As a long-time user of the East Bay’s casual carpool—the amazing, not-officially-organized alternative way of getting into San Francisco on workday mornings—I can attest to its many attractions and occasional irritiations. But one of those attractions is gone and a new irritation has appeared. It used to be free. Now, with the Bay Area Toll Authority charging carpools at the Bay Bridge toll plaza (the charge is $2.50 and recorded via FasTrak), “free” is largely a thing of the past and some drivers are actually kind of pushy about getting their dough.

Soon after the carpool toll went into effect, I climbed into a car headed for the Civic Center one morning. “Toll” was the last thing on my mind. “Seventy-five cents or a dollar,” the driver chirped before we pulled away from the curb. Huh. That struck me as a little forward. But I complied. Her car, her rules. (Not to say there’s not a debate to be had about the exchange of value here. The greatest service the riders do the drivers is allow them to avoid an often hellacious traffic jam at the bridge. So why ask for money? Also, if you’re going to charge for tolls, why not gas and insurance, too? Not that I want to give anyone an idea.)

A few months later, after a long stint of night-only work during which I never used the carpool, I was at the Civic Center line again. I got into the car that was apparently first in line. The driver was nowhere to be seen. It turned out she was chatting with some friends in another car as the line of cars grew. Eventually, she showed up. “Seventy-five cents or a dollar,” she said. Her again. I was actually, how shall I say it, nettled. Her request was reasonable, for sure. Her approach was a turn-off, even though she was not saying the ride depended on her getting paid. It was just—how about saying “good morning” before you start shaking down your passengers?

Of course, I was also a little nonplussed because I didn’t actually have any cash on me. Eventually, I recalled I had a card for a free cup of Peet’s coffee. I asked her whether she’d like that in lieu of a cash payment. To my surprise, she was delighted with that. “I love coffee!” she enthused. So I got my ride, my touchiness was assuaged by figuring out a solution, and she got some material benefit for the service she rendered.

All that’s preamble for the following: a nice video report on casual carpool toll angst from the Oakland North’s blog Carl Nasman:

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.
  • josie

    75 cents or $1 is “shaking down your passengers”??

    • Dan Brekke

      Yes–it’s an infinity percent increase over the previous rate. I can tell you share my outrage.