Driving to work has a lot of benefits. It can be a great time for listening to an audio book, enjoying the local countryside, and even relaxing if the stop and go of urban traffic doesn’t get to you. But when you aggregate this activity across millions of people trying to do the same thing it contributes greatly to the global climate and energy crises. The solutions? Carpooling and telecommuting.
Cars burn a great deal of fuel and send emissions into the air, especially when sitting idly in traffic. On the other hand, we have to go to work in order to put food on our tables. How do we reconcile these two competing priorities, while at the same time saving money? Whether you telecommute or carpool, you are contributing to removing millions of cars from the emissions equation and doing one of the most environmentally friendly things possible. You will also save a lot of money.
Car pooling is relatively simple. Instead of driving to work individually, a group of people who work together and live close to one another will drive to work in a single car. Each member of the carpool chips in for gas and makes sure to punctually pick everyone else up at an agreed upon time and location.
In areas like Washington, DC where traffic often slows to a standstill, special High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes exist that require you to have more than one person in your car to use them or you risk a stiff fine. This takes carpooling to a whole new level, since locations exist where people driving alone can pick up waiting “slugs” (people you don’t know but who need a ride downtown) so you can meet the HOV limit. You usually negotiate with your slugs of the day to arrange an HOV ride back home. It’s impersonal but practical and very environmentally friendly.
For people on a budget, a regular carpool can save a lot of money. If you are carpooling with five different people with each one alternating cars every day, you will cut down on your car’s usage by 80%. This means less wear and tear on your car, less mileage on the engine, less gasoline used, and fewer trips to a mechanic. Such limited use will extend the life of your car by many years and save you possibly thousands of dollars in maintenance.
The other alternative, telecommuting, is quickly catching on as well. Companies are increasingly seeing the value of letting employees work from home some or all of the time. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but companies save electricity and can get rid of unnecessary real estate if there is no longer a need for all those empty cubicles. Needless to say it also raises employee morale and retention. If every company in a large city let their workers telecommute just one day per week it would greatly lower traffic and emissions, lowering the amount of smog and saving everyone money. If you’re able and if your kind of work allows it, explore the possibility of working from home even one day a week. You might be surprised at your employer’s response. You will also save hundreds of dollars a year in gasoline you don’t use, garages you don’t park at, and lunches you don’t buy.
Reducing car use is important not just for the environment, but also for the world’s energy future. Oil prices spiked last summer to nosebleed levels, and many people believe the reason was because we are reaching the world’s peak oil producing capacity beyond which we cannot produce any more daily barrels, at the same time demand continued to increase worldwide at the time. Stagnant supply plus increasing demand equaled sharply higher prices. Prices have since crashed, but don’t be fooled–they’ll be back. The current economic depression has crushed demand for oil, but demand will resume when the economic crisis ends. Then we’ll be back to $4+/gallon gasoline, and we’ll see even more value to carpooling and telecommuting.
Whether you want to save money or save the environment, you can’t go wrong by exploring a carpool or telecommuting arrangement and encouraging your friends and neighbors to do the same. Given the economic conditions, your neighbors (or “slugs”) will thank you!