Commuter carpooling has been in a nosedive since about 1980.
And it’s nearly inexplicable that the rate hovers around 5 percent in Washington, D.C., where traffic and parking are particularly abominable even though there are many – maybe too many – ride sharing resources . Since 1980, leaders have invested in HOV lanes and E-ZPass, and gas prices have fluctuated frequently. Still, carpooling has declined since then by 50 percent.
Lance Patterson and Terry MacGregor, of software developer ByteLion, want to solve this problem with their new service, ZenRides.com. According to them, the enlightened path to carpooling lies through big employers of the region, with hospitals and government centers holding the greatest potential to bring the necessary rider density. They market their product, which includes an app but, just as importantly, a close consultation with clients, as “easy and safe ridesharing with your coworkers.”
In the D.C. region, where ZenRides is currently working behind the scenes to build a client base, Patterson says one of many opportunities lies with the more than 400 park-and-ride lots with 160,000 parking spaces around and beyond the Beltway, which can better serve as key nodes for carpoolers. He notes that while most lots on the Beltway are packed full during the work week, there are typically lots of spots in lots a little further out.
“It is clear that we need to take a new approach if we want to see change,” Patterson says. By providing the information needed to manage their parking and commuting problems, ZenRides looks to help employers clear out their parking garages while tracking rides, saving gas, and reducing emissions, he notes.
The benefits to consumers or employees of a real-time, user-friendly way to ride with co-workers at far lower prices than UberPool, Lyft Line, and probably even the train or bus seem pretty clear. All the commuters going to the same work location provides the rider density needed to make it easy and reliable.
“With a public-view dashboard showing the active map and environmental impact, it is easy to get [employees] excited,” Patterson says. This information on lobby screens could encourage large organizations to get behind employee-carpooling initiatives, Patterson notes, specifically adding that “medical organizations are very good at promoting change.”
ZenRides says its model will work best for major employers with 1,000 or more commuting workers. At the start, clients conduct a survey of their commuters and get them opted-in to the system. Carpooling would only begin when there are enough riders registered from various geographical areas and human resources or other relevant administrative leaders would activate users only after receiving proof of current insurance and license.
ZenRides has a small monthly fee for each user. But organizations would quickly see a return-on-investment that Patterson says could amount to thousands saved from reduced demand for parking spaces.
The ByteLion team also calculates that there’s an added benefit for hospitals, which get a boost in funding based on how happy patients are with their stays, including how easy it is for them and their family and friends to get there.
The software developers believe they have a leg up. They say ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are a good start, but don’t provide the type of coordinated carpooling that gets cars off the roads. Employers, they say, have a way to tackle the problem, track it, and make sure it works.
With the critical-mass type of numbers larger employers can offer, carpooling could truly make a comeback into the mainstream.
Photo: Top, HOV lanes on I-395 in Arlington County, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). Middle, the ZenRides app for employees (note: not for use while driving).