Opinion: Carpooling to reduce carbon emissions and costs

Submitted by: Nadia Shah, Thursday, October 2, 2014

<p>Nadia Shah reflects on her personal carpooling experiences. (Image Source: Nadia Shah)</p>

Nadia Shah reflects on her personal carpooling experiences. (Image Source: Nadia Shah)

Carpool Week was celebrated in South Africa from the 6th to the 10th of October 2014. The aim of the initiative is to alleviate traffic congestion by reducing the number of private vehicles on the road which not only reduces pollution and saves on fuel costs, but promotes a culture of sharing and social cohesion. In support and celebration of Carpool Week, Nadia Shah reflects on her personal experience of belonging to a lift club.

I have belonged to a number of lift clubs throughout my life, I carpooled to school and university and I now carpool to work. At one point I even had a lift club of my own, although I much prefer being a passenger. I currently travel a return trip of 80kms a day in a Toyota Avanza which seats eight people. The journey starts in Tongaat, Westbrook is the next stop and there are two more stops in Seatides before we catch the M4 and head into central Durban. It was relatively easy to find my current lift club. I started my search by responding to an advert posted on Gumtree. Although that lift club was full I was referred to someone else who provided me with the contact details of a few other people who ran lift clubs in the area. After making a few calls I managed to find a lift club which suited my route and my travel arrangements were confirmed.

Economic and environmental benefits of carpooling

Being part of a lift club saves me a significant amount of money; I estimate the savings to be in the region of R2, 000.00 per a month. In addition, my carbon footprint is a fraction of what it would be if I were to travel alone. I have calculated my daily commute in the Toyota Avanza shared by eight passengers to be 2.97 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as compared to 12.95 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions if I were to travel alone in my car.

The social benefits of carpooling

An additional benefit of carpooling which is often taken for granted is the social dynamic. The value of having a group of travel buddies is that it gives you an opportunity to interact with others which certainly makes the mind-numbing experience of being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic more pleasant. There are days when we vicariously take on East Coast Radio’s Grand Challenge, watch silly videos online and share experiences and slabs of chocolate and other days when everyone is exhausted and we use the travel time as an opportunity to fit in a cat-nap or conquer the next level of ‘Candy Crush’ in silence.


Nadia Shah with her lift club members. (Image Source: Nadia Shah)

Challenges of belonging to a lift club

These economic savings and environmental and social benefits do however require sacrifice and one needs to consider the hassle factor of joining or taking a lift club. One of the major disadvantages of travelling with a lift club is the lack of flexibility; it means that I get to work and have to leave work at a set time. For the most part this is not much of an inconvenience since I arrive at work half an hour early and leave half an hour later. On the rare occasion when I require greater flexibility, I take my car to work.  Life is however not always predictable and there have been instances where afternoon meetings have ran over time and I have had to excuse myself to avoid delaying my lift club. Carpooling also restricts my mobility during the day. Since I don’t have a car available, I usually get a lift with my colleagues to meetings or take a taxi. Working in the sustainability sector with a boss who encourages environmentally responsible travel makes it easier than it would be for most and I understand that such inflexibility might not be tolerated at all companies. The lift club driver is also very accommodating and has been kind enough to detour his route to drop me off and collect me from meeting venues.

Running your own lift club

For the driver of our lift club from the first pick up to the last drop off, and lots of traffic in-between, each trip takes him almost one and a half hours in total. Whilst I’m sure it must be rather tiring and frustrating driving for almost three hours a day, running a lift club is a relatively easy way of securing an additional income. With smaller lift clubs which cover shorter distances, the lift club fees collected may only supplement the driver’s fuel bill, however as the numbers and distance increases, the revenue generated becomes large enough to cover fuel costs, car instalments and insurance. It really can be quite lucrative.

My experience of running a lift club

From my experience larger lift clubs seem to be more functional, with more people counting on you there is greater pressure to be on time. When I first started driving I gave a lift to one of my colleagues and we soon became friends. This friendship however strained the two simple unspoken rules of a lift club; punctuality and payment! Since it was only the two of us, I felt obliged to make unplanned stops and wait past the agreed time since I didn’t have the excuse of needing to be punctual for other passengers. Every morning was a new excuse as to why he was late and months would go by without me receiving payment which put me in the very awkward position of having to remind him to pay me. Despite the inconvenience and frustration, as a new driver having a co-pilot gave me a second pair of eyes on the road and the moral support certainly helped me build my confidence, which in retrospect was probably worth it.

I have since decided against the responsibility of running my own lift club. For me, reducing my environmental impact and saving on my travel expenses is motivation enough to deal with the slight inconvenience associated with being a passenger. I would much rather forfeit the potential profits of running my own lift club than face the daunting task of navigating through central town in peak-hour traffic!

How you can support Carpool Week

If you would like to participate in Carpool Week, you might find the “Find-a-lift” website very useful. The website offers the free service of connecting people who travel along the same route in order to promote carpooling. There are also a number of adverts on Gumtree under the “carpool and rideshare” category. The Find-a-lift website also has a “Savings Calculator” which can help you work out what the potential daily and annual savings of carpooling would be for your specific route and vehicle.

To keep updated with sustainability news subscribe to the fortnightly Urban Earth Newsletter.