For all the years I've groused about traffic or the price of parking, there's one thing I've never done: car pool. Even years of commuting...
For all the years I’ve groused about traffic or the price of parking, there’s one thing I’ve never done: car pool.
Even years of commuting in the suburbs, getting stuck at notorious choke points near Southcenter or the lake bridges, couldn’t compel me to consider sharing the ride.
I know this confession makes me look bad. But I’m confident most of you won’t judge me for it.
Because you haven’t car pooled either.
This week, King County released a report on how we get to work, and the percentage of commuters who car pool is as low as it has been since the county started collecting data.
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Amazingly, a much higher share of commuters car pooled in 1980 (17 percent) than do today (11 percent).
That was before we spent $1.5 billion on 200 miles of special lanes, acres of park-and-ride lots and subsidized parking for those who don’t drive solo.
The decline in car pooling came when roads were so clogged it should have been a strong incentive for riders to double up. Other ways of getting to work, such as walking or telecommuting, boomed.
So is car pooling a flop?
Transportation experts insist that even a small slice of car poolers provide outsized benefits to traffic flow. And building all those diamond lanes was worth it because buses use them, often moving twice the people at rush hour as a regular lane.
“Car pooling isn’t dead, and it isn’t a disaster,” said Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center. “But it’s clear that for most people, when they weigh the pros and cons, car pooling doesn’t make the cut.”
Even with the decline, as many people still car pool as take buses and trains.
That said, somehow I doubt we would have invested so much money in car pooling if we’d known it was going to turn out this way.
Some states, such as New Jersey, have declared some car-pool routes a failure and opened them to all traffic.
I think there’s a better idea. It will increase car pooling, reduce congestion and raise road-repair money.
It’s time for tolls.
You could put a toll on all freeway lanes except the diamond lane. Imagine how many people would car pool then.
Or, you could charge solo drivers for the privilege of using car-pool lanes. When they tried this in San Diego, car pooling actually increased. People felt they could get something for free that solo drivers had to pay for.
Here, they’ve proposed such a toll for the Valley Freeway in South King County, but it’s been stuck in the Legislature.
“Tolls are seen in this state as the devil’s spawn,” Hallenbeck said.
Well, they shouldn’t be. You use the road, you pay for it — unless you are a car pooler or transit rider. That’s fairer and does more good than just jacking the gas tax, the path our leaders seem stuck on.
As for me, I’ll probably keep driving alone. You can try to make me feel guilty about that, but better to just make me pay.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday.
Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.