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The invention of cars has drastically increased our mobility as humans. If you wanted, you could race across the entire United States in just 31 hours. But for those of us who aren’t race car drivers, most of the thrill of driving is gone; it’s been replaced by the dull frustration of being stuck in traffic. If you have ever driven in or out of New York City during rush hour, or around LA at anytime of day, I’m sure you’ll agree. There are just too many cars on the road.
Having so many cars increases the time an individual must spend in their car for a given trip. The road quickly becomes a battle zone, where one person’s gain is another’s loss. Consequently, reckless driving is fairly common, and results in damaged cars or worse. The coupling of longer transit times and more broken cars is not safe or sustainable.
In addition, more cars on the road mean that the roads take more of a beating. This forces infrastructure replacement sooner. This replacement is not only inconvenient, but it also requires a huge amount of resources. All of the construction vehicles and material production emit huge amounts of GHGs.
So, how can you become more sustainable and cut down on time spent in traffic?
What you need to know
Many people drive their cars alone. Perhaps we do this because we are hardwired with an American sense of independence, or perhaps we gain a false sense of control by driving by ourselves. Either way, too many people drive their cars alone when they could share. How many of your coworkers live nearby? Probably more than you would care to admit.
All the extra 180-pound people driving around 4,000-pound boxes of metal seem a bit wasteful, wouldn’t you say?
The concept is simple; if you are going to the same location as someone who lives around you, share a ride. Geographically, most American cities are structured with a central commercial ‘hub’ and satellite residences. Therefore, many people wind up commuting in and out to the same or neighboring locations. Coordinating this drive can save money, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and save time because you are reducing the number of cars on the road.
Realistically, it is very difficult to compute the savings that are gained from lowering the total number of cars on the road. The individual impact one car has on the degradation of infrastructure is so small that we are dealing with differentials. However, when that individual amount is summed over many people, and over many years, it can be incredibly significant.
As an example, let us imagine that everyone carpools to a point of efficiency so that you have half the current amount of cars on the road. This would, (in theory although not practice), double the design length of many infrastructure components. This means steel bridges last twice as long, roads are repaved half as much, and so on for curbs, ramps, etc. It is easy to see the environmental benefits correlated with having our infrastructure last twice as long.
On a more calculable level, you can also see the personal savings from carpooling. Let us say that you have a 30-mile commute to work. By carpooling to work with a coworker who lives nearby, you would effectively save half of your gas bill. This means that every day you would save roughly $5 a day. This also means that you will prevent about 4.5 kg of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every day.
Of course, there are numerous other solutions to the excess number of cars on the road. These include public transit, bicycles, and walking, just to list a few. Many cities are improving public transit and creating new bike paths. Why not give something new a try? To make things even better, bikers and runners will get in a nice workout during the commute.
However these options are not always feasible, so for those who must drive, carpooling is a great option. Considering the above example, carpooling over a 10-month work year would result in savings of $1,525, and reduce CO2 emissions by 1,372 kg. Those are significant numbers.
Think about it
Once you start carpooling to work, why not put your kids in a carpool to school and to soccer practice afterwards? It’s less to worry about, not to mention that you’re saving gas money and the environment. To make things even better, you’ll probably make some new friends.
Carpooling has so many benefits. Why not give it a try?
by Tamara Perreault and Keith Heyde
Tamara and Keith are of Bowdoin College and Columbia University respectively. The two started a biotech and environmental consulting start up Abstract Algae over the summer of 2011. For more information, please contact Keith or Tamara at firstname.lastname@example.org.