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Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Rule For Casual Carpoolers: Pony Up a Buck

Posted By on Thu, Jul 1, 2010 at 11:59 AM

click to enlarge carsign.jpg
At the corner of Howard and Fremont this morning -- the first day of the $2.50 Bay Bridge carpool toll -- the casual carpoolers disembarked out of virtual strangers' vehicles just the same as they did yesterday and every other morning in past decades. Yet some were a dollar poorer.

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.

click to enlarge DROPPING OFF AS ALWAYS...
  • Dropping off as always...

Whether the driver accepted the money was a different


"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."  

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Lauren Smiley


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