Getting to work can be a challenge in Jacksonville. If you’re just starting your career, car payments, upkeep and fuel combine to be a significant cost, one that you might not be able to afford (more about that later.) Carpooling is a great option, and there’s a site that matches you up with people who don’t mind sharing a ride.
The site Cool to Pool is run by The North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), the independent regional transportation planning agency for Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties. The organization’s mission is to “provide a regional forum for developing an effective transportation system that moves people and goods safely, economically and efficiently, maintaining a high quality of life in North Florida. You can use Cool to Pool to find occasional, regular, or one-time car pools or ride share. You can even find people to share rides on other kinds of transport, walking, or cycling.
You create a user ID and profile on the site, which asks questions like whether you’re a smoker and offers to let you upload a photo (this seemed too personal to me; I declined.) You can create different profiles for activities like work, shopping, or doctor appointments; each would have a starting point (your home, usually), and a destination. Your profile includes the number of days a month you take this route, the times you need to depart and arrive, and how flexible those times are within a 30 minute window. You can choose to open your search up to match with anyone, or try to limit yourself to your own employer (several very large Jacksonville companies came up in the list of options.)
The site offers many helpful tools for carpoolers, including a printable survey form for the members to agree on what makes a ride pleasant. Questions ask whether smoking, food, conversation, or music are allowed and whether a stop to get coffee or gas would be okay. The form also sets up a payment schedule and driving rotation and how long to wait before leaving someone behind, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Cool to Pool also helps you calculate the cost of your commute, which might be a big incentive to sign up. My commute is about 15 miles each way, and I do it 20 times a month. My car gets about 21 miles per gallon in the city, and gas is a pretty good bargain right now. With my finance costs, depreciation and maintenance figured in, the site estimates that I pay $598 a month and $7,176 a year to drive solo to work. (That doesn’t count any errands at lunch or meetings I drive to.) The site also informs me that my carbon emissions add up to 6,752 pounds each year.
When I finished my profile and my commute pattern, I clicked to find matches for possible carpools. Six matches showed up; most started within a mile or two of my home (the farthest was at the beach, but came right by my East Arlington neighborhood each day) and all wound up in downtown Jacksonville. I was able to see their destinations and commute times and read brief messages they’d posted on the preferences and driving record.
Carpooling may provide a way for people to get to work from some of the more remote areas of Northeast Florida. We can also reduce congestion on heavily traveled routes. Jacksonville is a city that loves its cars, but that doesn’t mean we have to travel in them by ourselves.