Another Thing We Did Before the Pandemic
Casual Carpool has nothing to do with yoga pants. But since casual clothing is infinitely more comfortable, it follows that Casual Carpool was indeed a more comfortable and less expensive way to endure a daily commute.
This organic transportation agreement – some might call it “glorified hitch-hiking” – was casual in its implementation as well, for such commuter symbiosis required no roster-crafting, no waiting for someone psychologically incapable of being on time, no last-minute scrambling for an alternate driver if one awoke with the stomach bug. A commitment-phobe’s dream.
Casual Carpool, a “you might show up, I might show up” serendipity-in-action thing has existed in the Bay Area since, presumably, the creation of HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes and reduced bridge tolls for carpoolers in the late 1970s. This timeline appears vague because nobody can pinpoint when and where Casual Carpool started. A 1985 story in the Oakland Tribune confirms, “No one seems to know precisely how the Casual Carpool started.”
Orindan CJ Taylor recalled the urban legend regarding its beginnings here: the unknown originators circled through the bustling BART parking lot during morning rush hour, encouraging harried commuters on their way to the platform to jump in and carpool into the city.
This required a great deal of trust at the outset, but enough commuters replied “Sure, why not?”
As drivers and riders saw the benefits, a more systematic approach was crafted. Early weekday mornings, riders formed a queue in the back of Theatre Square shopping plaza. Vehicles formed a queue to pick up 2-3 passengers before hopping on Highway 24. It was convenient to BART in case no drivers appeared. Ever true to Field of Dreams – once built, people came.
All riders were dropped off at Howard Street and were responsible for making their way to work. Return service was available as well. All locations throughout the East Bay could eventually be found on http://www.511.org.
Decades of delivery, then the familiar refrain: along came the pandemic. Casual Carpool vanished as unceremoniously as it emerged.
Taylor would like the return of Casual Carpool. but no one has a clue how to reignite this phantom. Taylor points out commuting has changed and it could be a challenge to inspire folks to bring it back. Parking is plentiful at the BART station and BART needs passengers.
“When I first moved to Orinda, I started using Casual Carpool as a rider,” said Taylor, a scientist at Amazon Music. “I found it a great way to meet my neighbors.”
While an unofficial guideline decrees the driver determines whether conversation will take place, Taylor noticed after years of commuting together, one still makes connections regardless of how much chatter takes place.
“I carried a small scooter to get to the office once I was dropped off in the city. That was always a crazy ice-breaker,” he said.
Now that companies are requiring a modified return to in-person office hours, will we ever see a return of Casual Carpool?
One last thought: Encourage your high-schooler to drive a carpool to Miramonte. It requires a bit more organization and effort than Casual Carpool, but there is no better method to prod your sleepy headed senior to school each morning than the horrifying image of you, the parent, stepping in and driving in their place.
Mimi Bommarito can be reached at email@example.com.