Carpooling - once the bane of independent drivers everywhere - is emerging with new respectability, its own jargon and specific rules of etiquette as motorists search for ways to ease the pain at the gasoline pump.
New vehicles such as Ford's seven-passenger Flex crossover can make the commuting journey more comfortable, thanks to a host of unique features, such as a refrigerator in the second row, SIRIUS® Travel Link™ and a panoramic sunroof that lets natural light shine in for second- and third-row passengers.
Frustrated by prices at the pump, more and more motorists are trading privacy for convenience and the opportunity to save a little cash. "It just makes sense," says Nancy Cain, spokeswoman for AAA Michigan. "We're seeing it more and more, particularly in these times of jaw-dropping gas prices. Increasing numbers of people are willing to carpool. It's a good way to save money, and it's good for the environment, even if you only do it one day a week."
Ford Flex can help carpoolers find the cheapest gallon of gas on the daily commute, thanks to Travel Link, a feature that can locate the gas station with the best price and then quickly route the driver to that store using the vehicle's navigation system. It's a feature that could save as much as 50 cents per gallon.
While there's no official tracking method for carpools, it's easy to see that in larger cities, rideshare programs are flourishing. In a few cities, such as Washington, D.C., where drivers need more passengers to get into the high-occupancy lanes, a new breed of commuter, dubbed "slugs" in modern parlance, wait patiently in lines in parking lots for drivers to pull over, announce their destinations and offer free rides.
While these anonymous "casual carpoolers" may evolve in larger cities, most carpools these days involve friends, neighbors or co-workers simply seeking to save a buck and not drive each other crazy while sharing a small space.
"The key, really, is communication," said Larry Swart, Midwest manager for VPSI, Inc., a Michigan-based national vanpool provider that operates 5,000 vanpools across the country - including seven that bring Ford workers to the Dearborn, Mich., campus each day. "If a vanpool folds, it's usually over some type of communication issue, rather than a personality conflict."
VPSI even urges participants to set their rules to paper. "We encourage them to write up a set of bylaws that establishes rules in advance," Swart said. "They can set up a phone tree, determine what radio stations are amenable to everyone, decide how long the van will wait for someone who's late, and find out if someone's allergic to perfumes or certain scents. They get over a lot of the communication issues that can become larger once emotions and personalities become involved."
So whether you're participating in a vanpool or organizing your own set of commuters, a few generally accepted rules of carpooling etiquette are good to keep in mind:
"Be respectful and be courteous," says Cain. "You're going to be together in an enclosed space. Treat each other like you'd like to be treated."