Where Have All The Carpools Gone?

Every parent I know (myself included) spends a significant chunk of his/her waking hours shuttling the kids to and from school, sports, lessons, day care, play dates, birthday parties, and field trips. Managing to get kids to and from all of these activities and places often requires an inordinate amount of time and a complex system of planning – especially for working parents who need to find a way to fit drop-offs and pickups around their work schedules – or vice-versa.
This adds up to a lot of time and stress for parents. Which leads me to wonder, why don’t we carpool more? At every school I pass during drop off or pick up times, I see a winding line of cars blocking traffic and making me wonder why we don’t use buses or carpools to get our kids to and from school anymore? I know the carpooling practice is still alive and well in some communities, particularly as kids get older and join organized sports, but not in nearly the same way as in years past. When I was young, my parents relied on carpools to get me to and from preschool and related activities. What happened? There is certainly an enormous environmental benefit to be derived from the practice of carpooling (fewer emissions, less congestion). But even putting that important consideration aside, why aren’t we taking more advantage of carpooling as a life management strategy?
I suppose it has a lot to do with the way our lives have changed. With more dual income families, there are multiple work schedules and commutes to juggle, perhaps decreasing the feasibility of coupling up with neighbors or friends. We also schedule our kids in all kinds of before and after-school activities that have start and end times and locations that don’t match up with friends’ schedules. Where I live, we have also migrated away from the community school. With the school choice movement and increasing disparities in our public school system, we now have neighborhoods like mine where on any given street the children may attend 5-10 different schools. This is unfortunate for a variety of social and educational reasons, but also because it eliminates the ease of carpooling to school with neighbors.
And some of it is just plain economics, according to the 2011 New York Times article “Once Popular, Carpools Go the Way of Hitchhiking.” Speaking mainly about the decline in commuter carpools since the 1970’s, the authors blame the downshift on the greater number of women working, the increased distance to employers, and the fact that people just seem to prefer to be in their own car if they own one.
Still there has been a ride-sharing trend emerging with the explosion of ride-share start ups in the past couple of years. Companies such as Lyft, Uber, Sidecar and Zimride have struck gold and several have just launched carpooling services as a more economical and social option for their users. Could school carpools be next on their list of services?  Shuddle is a San Francisco-based start up that launched this Fall as the only ride-sharing service for kids. Parents can download and use the Shuddle app to schedule rides for their kids, track the ride in real time, and receive electronic confirmation of their safe arrival via the car of carefully-screened drivers. If this model proves successful and continues to expand, it could become a regular resource families use to help manage hectic schedules.
Perhaps ride-sharing is the wave of the future and carpooling will never be as prevalent as it once was, but it strikes me as an underutilized (and highly economical) work-life management strategy.  (This doesn’t even take into account the significant environmental and congestion management benefits associated with the practice). I hope carpools are alive and well in your community. But if not, let’s bring carpooling back as a way to partially alleviate hectic pickup/dropoff routines and gain some efficiency in managing the complex work-life-family equation.
Here are a few resources to help start a carpool or connect with existing ones in your area:

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