The age-old Bay Area tradition of the "casual carpool" has honed its own culture of rules: Commuters to Financial District jobs line up at
certain corners around the East Bay. Drivers looking for passengers in order to bypass the bridge toll stop alongside the curb. Passengers hop into the car, and only the driver is allowed to initiate conversation. No smoking. No cell phones. The driver saves money, the passengers get a free ride, and Mother Nature smiles. Yet this morning, many of the commuters said there was a new protocol: offering up a buck to the driver.
"I got in the car and gave her a dollar," says Jan
Newberry, food critic at San Francisco Magazine after she jumped
out of a car downtown at around 9 a.m. She says she was worried that adding the specter of
money -- the root of all evil, they say -- into what had been a free system would create
tension. Yet it didn't today. "She was lovely. She was like 'no, no, no.'"
Newberry says she left the benevolent driver a dollar anyways as she got out.
Weiler says the commuters in line outside the North Berkeley BART
station had been discussing whether to offer up $1 or $1.25. Weiler
offered her driver a buck, yet he didn't take it. "He said if he took
it, it would stop being fun."
Cristina Arriola, an executive
secretary who commutes over two bridges from Vallejo four days a week,
says on the carpool home last night, her driver was already prepared for
today's change. She had posted a laminated, printed-out sign on the dash
that read: "As of July 1, I expect you to pay $1.25 to help me pay the
"I was intimidated," Arriola joked. "And I'm like, 'The
reason you're getting a discount is because I'm sitting in your car.'"
Still, to defray driver-passenger tension, Arriola figured she better
comply this morning, and offered up five quarters to her driver. "I felt
obligated because I didn't want to be kicked out of the car." The
driver seemed surprised, but accepted her change. "I think it's gonna be
an individual thing."
No passengers said they were thinking of
ditching the tradition because of the cost. Even the savings for a
driver who's stiffed -- $3 compared to $6 for non-carpoolers -- would
still seem to make it worth it. (Last year, we wrote a
story in which some commuters thought if the savings were too
little, the carpool culture would die.) "To me, giving a dollar is not a
big deal. But if it reduces the number of carpoolers it would be a
shame," Newberry says. "It's still nicer than BART."