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Car and Van Pooling

Car pooling means sharing a ride to work with at least one other person. It's an ideal option for people who live in suburban or rural areas where there is little or no access to public transportation. Car pooling is a great way to save money — and the more people in your carpool, the more you save. It's also a way you can do your part to help the environment.

A van pool is a group of people who commute to work together in a van. Like car pooling, van pooling saves driving expenses and is a more environmentally friendly way to commute than driving alone.

A van pool usually includes between five and 15 participants. In most cases, the vans are owned or leased by individual commuters. However, some are operated directly by employers. Just like with a car pool, the members of the van pool decide on the driving arrangements and how expenses and maintenance responsibilities will be shared. Riders typically meet at a designated pick-up location, like a park and ride location. Depending on the van pool, there may be more than one pick-up location.


Making It Work

Car and van pools can work in many different ways. Some divide commuting expenses by the number of people car or van pooling. Others share expenses by rotating driving responsibilities on a regular basis. Regardless of how the car or van pool is set up, cooperation among the participants is key. Be prepared to coordinate with others and be flexible. Also, make sure you know the safety rules and etiquette of car or van pooling before trying it.


Car and Van Pool Options in Pennsylvania

  • CommuteInfo: offers various options, including car pooling, van pooling and bike pooling for work and school trips made by commuters traveling to or from Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
  • Commute PA: offers assistance and resources for car pooling, van pooling, biking, and other options for Adams, Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, and York counties.
  • Share-A-Ride: offers car pool, van pool and other options in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
  • CATACOMMUTE: offers car pool, van pool and other options in Blair, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Snyder and Union counties.


If It Doesn't Work Out

It can take time to create a car or van pool that works well for everyone. Try it for a few days. If you decide it's not for you, move on and try something else. Remember, you're under no obligation to continue.


Emergency Ride Home Programs

If you're considering car or van pooling but are concerned about not having a car available in case of an emergency, you can sign up for an Emergency Ride Home (ERH) Program.

You can find answers to frequently asked questions about Emergency Ride Home Programs in the Ridesharing FAQ.

Commute PA's ERH program provides registered users up to six emergency rides per year in the event of an unexpected personal or family emergency or illness that prevents them from using their normal green mode for their trip home from work or a higher education school.  To be eligible, commuters must use a green commute mode at least twice per week for their work/higher education commute and record those trips in the Commute PA program, when commuting by car pooling, van pooling, public transportation, biking, or walking.

CommuteInfo, operating in the southwestern Pennsylvania region, provides reimbursement for commuters participating in a registered van pool, car pool, bike pool or other eligible transit riders who required alternate transportation to get home in the event of an unexpected personal or family emergency, personal illness, unscheduled overtime or other eligible event.

The ERH Program offered through the Centre Area Transit Authority (CATA) is available to anyone registered with the RideShare Program and joined to a car pool or van pool. An annual fee of $15 will register you to receive four rides home (up to a 50-mile one-way trip) in case an emergency disrupts your shared-ride arrangements or would delay your trip home. (Full-time Penn State employees are automatically registered for free).

If you do not live in a county served by Commute PA, CommuteInfo, or CATA, check your local transit provider's schedule and see if it provides an alternate option.


Car and Van Pooling Benefits

From saving money to reducing your carbon footprint, car or van pooling offers many benefits over commuting alone:

  • Save money: By sharing expenses with other commuters, car or van pooling saves money on gas, car care and parking fees. It reduces wear and tear on your vehicle. And many insurance companies offer discounted rates to people who are part of a car or van pooling program.
  • Reduce traffic congestion: Nobody likes to sit in traffic. By car or van pooling, you're doing your part to reduce the number of cars on the road. The more people who make that choice, the less traffic congestion there will be.
  • Help protect the environment: Fewer cars on the road also means less air pollution, including carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
  • Reduce stress: Driving can be extremely stressful. Sharing driving responsibilities with other commuters gives you a chance to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Once you try it, you may find it's hard to go back to commuting alone.


Safety and Etiquette

Car or van pooling is a safe way to commute as long as you follow certain safety guidelines. There are also basic rules of etiquette you will want to know beforehand. Below are some points to keep in mind.

Safety Tips

  • Meet prospective car or van pooling partners in a public place prior to traveling together. Avoid giving out too much personal information before meeting. Ask questions to assess the driving habits and safety practices of prospective car or van pooling partners. You may also want to ask that they provide personal references.
  • Give friends or family the names of people you are car or van pooling with and let them know your schedule.
  • Trust your instincts. Just because you meet with someone or discuss car or van pooling doesn't mean you are obligated to move forward. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it.
  • Once you have established the people you will car or van pool with, exchange emergency medical information in case there is an accident or medical emergency.

Car and Van Pool Etiquette

  • Be on time. When one person is late, it makes other people late as well. Decide how long the driver is expected to wait for passengers before leaving.
  • Be respectful of the driver's vehicle. Agree beforehand on whether it is OK to smoke, eat or drink in the vehicle. Never leave trash in the vehicle. As a driver, keep your vehicle clean and tidy.
  • If you are driving, drive carefully and obey all traffic laws. Speeding and aggressive driving may make other car or van poolers feel unsafe. Make sure all passengers are wearing their seat belts.
  • Be mindful of anything that might bother other car or van pool members. For example, excessive talking might distract the driver or bother people who prefer quiet. Talking on a mobile phone may also disturb some people, so make sure it's OK with everyone first.
  • Try to avoid requesting changes to the schedule and follow through on your commitments. This will create trust and show respect to your fellow commuters. Don't make unexpected stops for errands unless it is agreed upon by all car or van pool members.
  • Be considerate of passengers when listening to music, news or talk radio.
  • Avoid wearing products with strong scents. Strong perfumes, colognes or hair products may be irritating to others in the car.


How To Get Started

Starting or joining a car or van pool is easy. Finding the right people and making it work for everyone requires a little more thought. Fortunately, there are resources available that make it easier than ever before. Below you will find a kit for starting your own car or van pool. First, a few quick steps for getting started:

  • Find car or van pool partners. Establish the rules. Will there be smoking, eating or drinking allowed in the car? How long will you wait for people who are late? Be sure that everyone understands and agrees on rules like these before starting.
  • Write down your route and schedule. Be sure to include meeting points, times for departing and returning trips, and agreed-upon drop-off locations.
  • Clearly define driving responsibilities. If there are multiple drivers in the car or van pool, create a driving schedule so there is no confusion about driving responsibilities. Decide how you will alternate driving responsibilities (for example, on a daily, weekly or monthly basis). If driving responsibilities will not be shared equally, establish how you will share the expenses and when payments will be made. Verify that all car or van pool drivers have a valid driver's license and car insurance.
  • Share contact information. Exchange phone numbers so everyone can be contacted if there is a change in the schedule. Define a chain of communication for notifying car or van pool members of any changes to the normal schedule. You may also want to share email addresses so you can distribute information like the route schedule and driving responsibilities.
  • Create a back-up plan. Always have a back-up plan for unavoidable situations and last-minute changes.

Self-Starter Kit

With some advance planning, starting your own car or van pool is easy. Below are tips and tools to help you plan a successful car or van pool.


Planning Your Car or Van Pool

Car or van pools can be set up in many different ways. For example, you could arrange it so that:

  • One person drives, and all passengers contribute to gas and parking.
  • Participants alternate driving and do not exchange money.
  • The driver picks up passengers at their homes.
  • Participants meet at a central location like a park-and-ride lot.

Think about how you would prefer your car or van pool to work. Once you find other participants, you can then collectively make up the rules and determine the schedule.


Tips for a Successful Car or Van Pool

  • Establish a clear route and schedule, including pick-up points and meeting places.
  • Decide if you will share driving responsibilities, or how you will share expenses.
  • Always be punctual. Decide beforehand how long the driver is expected to wait for someone.
  • Establish clear policies about smoking, music selection and volume and whether to allow food and drinks to be consumed in the car.
  • Make your car or van pool serve a single purpose. For example, if it is for commuting to and from work, do not use it for private errands.
  • Establish a chain of communication in case there is a change in the schedule.
  • Have an alternate driver to ensure that other members of the car or van pool will have a ride if the scheduled driver can’t make it.
  • Drive carefully and keep the vehicle clean and in good repair.


Breaking Up with Your Car or Van Pool

Breaking up with your car or van pool isn't hard to do. Sometimes it's unavoidable because the participants are not a good match or people's schedules change. Remember, there's no obligation to continue. Here are a few tips for navigating the car or van pool breakup:

  • Be clear about your intentions. Let people know that it's not working out and that you don't want to continue. You don't have to get into details about why you're leaving. However, don't just decide to not show up one day without notifying anyone, since this is not fair to the other car or van poolers.
  • Give as much advance notice as possible. Sometimes it might not be much, but show good faith and try to give the other car or van pool members a chance to work out a new schedule.
  • Be sure to pay any share of your expenses that may still be owed up to the point that you leave.