When you carpool to school or rideshare to your job, you have an opportunity to help put the brakes on some of the most devastating and pervasive problems facing our planet today: rising levels of greenhouse gases, worsening air pollution, increasing ozone depletion, and generation of acid rain.
Every day the amounts of carbon dioxide, particulates, ozone, and volatile organic carbons (hydrocarbon compounds that are known carcinogens and neurotoxins) emitted into the atmosphere are taking their toll on the Earth and driving the air we breathe into the danger zone.
When you team up with at least one other person in a carpool or help organize a rideshare program in your office complex, you are taking constructive, effective steps against some very formidable opponents; namely:
- The carbon dioxide, a byproduct of vehicle exhaust. Cars and light trucks emit more than 300 million tons of carbon into the air every year in the United States. Vehicles are responsible for one-third of the carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere, and that poison contributes to global warming.
- Ozone, the main ingredient of smog, which forms in the lower atmosphere when particulates and pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and various volatile organic compounds released from automobiles, trucks, and industry interact with sunlight, stagnant air, and heat. Exposure to ozone can cause shortness of breath, throat irritation, chest pain, coughing, and lead to asthma attacks.
- Ozone depletion, which occurs when the pollutants released into the lower atmosphere eventually reach the stratosphere, or ozone layer. The ozone layer protects the earth from damaging ultraviolet radiation. The integrity of the ozone layer is in serious jeopardy
- Acid rain, which occurs when a pollutant, such as sulfuric acid, combines with water droplets and acidifies the moisture. When the water returns to earth as precipitation, it damages plants and wildlife, poisons the soil, and alters the chemistry of waterways, adversely affecting water quality and aquatic life.
Although it may seem like carpooling or ridesharing is not nearly dynamic enough to have an impact on these pressing environmental problems, remember that the cumulative effect of millions of individuals can and does create, promote, and sustain change. Every five-person carpool means there is only one polluting vehicle on the road instead of five. That means there are four less vehicles contributing to ozone depletion, acid rain, and traffic snarls.
There are other benefits when you join a carpool or rideshare:
- Carpooling reduces dependency on foreign oil
- You can spend ridesharing time reading or doing homework, chatting with friends, making phone calls, or just relaxing
- You save money on gas and other travel related expenses, as well as wear and tear on your vehicle
- Many cities have HOVs — High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. These lanes are reserved for use by carpool and rideshare vehicles only, which generally means you bypass much of the traffic and are allowed to use special toll lanes as well.
You can feel good about making a positive difference in the world
I Did This!
You can either join a carpool or rideshare that is already operating, or you can start one at your school or office. Here's how:
Join an Established Carpool or Rideshare Program
- At work, you can contact the human resource department or transportation department to see if there are carpools already in operation, or you can check company bulletin boards or newsletters for information.
- If you are a parent who wants to participate in a carpool or rideshare for your child, contact the school administration office, your child's teacher, the PTA/PTO, or talk with other parents
- Go online and check carpool and rideshare sites that help connect commuters in your area. Just enter your zip code and/or city name, and you will be given contact information. These are several free services; for example: eRideShare and Carpool World.
- You may also find a carpool in your area if you do an Internet search using the keywords "carpool" or "rideshare" along with your town or city name.
Start a Carpool or Rideshare
- Familiarize yourself with some tips and etiquette guidelines on how to establish a successful and efficient carpool or rideshare. These guidelines cover everything from reimbursement to punctuality and scheduling.
- Contact your state's department of transportation or department of environmental quality for information on starting a carpool. Many cities and towns provide information and support materials for people who want to start a carpool.
- At work, contact the human resource department or transportation department and ask if they will help you start and promote a carpool or rideshare program.
- Advertise your intention to start a carpool or rideshare in your company's newsletter, interoffice e-mail, or on bulletin boards
- At school, contact the administration office and ask if they will help you start a carpool or rideshare program. You can also do it more informally by individually contacting parents whom you know.
Whether you carpool or rideshare once a week or every day, to the office or school, for after school events or the company picnic, you'll breathe easier knowing that you are having a positive impact on the quality of the environment while saving money as well.