Casual Carpooling in the San Francisco Bay Area: Understanding User Characteristics, Behaviors, and Motivations


Casual carpooling is an informal form of commuter ridesharing operating in Washington, D.C.; Houston, Texas; and San Francisco, California. In contrast to new forms of shared-use mobility, casual carpooling has been in existence for over 30 years and uses no information communication technology, and is entirely run informally by its users. Researchers have been fascinated by this phenomenon and have conducted studies in the past, but there remains a lack of up-to-date quantitative data. This study examines the motivations and behaviors of casual carpoolers in the San Francisco Bay Area to understand user characteristics and motivations. In Winter 2014, the authors observed and counted participants and vehicles at four casual carpooling locations, interviewed participants riding in carpooling vehicles (N=16), and conducted intercept surveys (N=503) at ten East Bay pickup locations. The results indicate that the motivations for casual carpooling participation include convenience, time savings, and monetary savings, while environmental and community-based motivations ranked low. Casual carpooling is an efficient transportation option for these commuters, while environmental sustainability benefits are a positive byproduct. Seventy-five percent of casual carpool users were previously public transit riders, and over 10% formerly drove alone. Logit modeling found that casual carpool role (i.e., always a rider or sometimes a driver), age, and employment status were key drivers in modal choice. Further research on a larger scale is needed to identify the elements needed for system replication in different areas.

Susan Shaheen, PhD
Nelson Chan
Theresa Gaynor
Publication date: 
October 1, 2016
Publication type: