The decline of carpooling

Date posted: March 4, 2011

With gas prices rising, it seems the interest in carpooling should increase. What has been happening with carpooling? Has it risen and fallen with gas prices? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“Actually … carpooling has been on a long-run decline. In terms of the percentage of commuters who carpool, it has dropped from 20 percent in 1980, one out of five people carpooled in 1980, to 12 percent in 2000, and to an estimated only 10 percent today. So cut in half over 30 years. And several factors, I think, have worked against carpooling.

“First of all, companies are more spread out now. You don’t have a central business district anymore that had the majority of companies located there. They are spread out much more in the suburbs and exurbs. So that means it is harder for riders to find matches to their place of work.

“Secondly, and many people will find this hard to believe, if you look at the cost of gasoline on an inflation-adjusted basis, it is still less costly today than it was in 1980.

“And then thirdly, and this may be the biggest factor, vehicle ownership.  The number of vehicles that people own in the country has gone up 60 percent since 1980, compared to only a 33 percent increase in population. So translated, more people have cars out there and they are using them.

“So one positive aspect to carpooling that some people think may come into play is that modern technology and social media may make it easier down the road to find carpoolers.”

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