Casual Carpool

Kira Pan, Print Editor in Chief


Throughout history, living things have been known to work together in mutually beneficial systems. In the ocean, anemones protect clownfish from predators in exchange for nutrients from clownfish. On land, oxpeckers keep mammals free of parasites to get free meals in return. Symbiotic relationships, prevalent in all of nature, reveal itself in human systems as well in the form of casual carpool.

For over 30 years, Piedmont residents have benefitted from “casual carpool,”  an unofficial form of ridesharing. 

“Casual carpool is an organic program where drivers going from one point [in Piedmont] to San Francisco pick up between one to two additional passengers in the morning to ride with them so that they can drive in the carpool lane on the Bay Bridge,” said Piedmont parent Ryan Gilbert.

Casual carpool is suspected to have been around since the 1990s, over 20 years before the creation of popular ridesharing apps such as Lyft and Uber in 2011.

“I remember my friend in the 90s taking [casual carpool] and he talked about it. I was like ‘What are you talking about?’” said Piedmont parent Cass Caulfield.

This system is mutually beneficial to both riders needing to get to work in the mornings and for drivers wanting to take the carpool lane.

“They have a reduced bridge toll [for drivers] and you can get into the city faster as well,” Piedmont parent Lesley Zalewski said. “I was a driver a few times and you just pick up people from the stop. It’s a very efficient system.”

Piedmont has one casual carpool stop on Oakland Avenue and there are several stops throughout Oakland, according to 511 SF Bay. 

“I think it’s a great system,” said Cindy Xu, who has been using casual carpool in El Cerrito before coming to Piedmont. “I can only say good things about it. It is an easier commute, convenient for both drivers and passengers.”

Aside from its convenience, casual carpooling has built friendships and increased communal bonds.

“I met a lot of really neat people in carpool, people I never would’ve talked to otherwise,” Zalewski said. “It was a great experience to build a sense of community.”

Caulfield shares a similar experience, becoming friends with her neighbors through casual carpool.

 “I was driving casual carpool once and this older couple got in the car. We just started talking and they ended up being our neighbors,” Caulfield said. “We sort of built this carpool friendship because when I’d see them, I would pick them up and bring them [home]. They were just the cutest couple, giving me tips on how to grow my flowers.”

Although the system has been a staple form of transportation for many Piedmont commuters, the pandemic has taken a toll on the use of casual carpool, mainly attributed to preventing the spread of virus and the increased amount of people working from home.

“I took [casual carpool] for about 20 years and I haven’t really taken it since COVID,” Zalewski said. “It’s the challenge of getting people back into the office. We’re not commuting into cities anymore.”

While some people have begun lining up at carpool stops again, casual carpool has not been nearly as popular as before. 

“I think the critical mass has been eroded because of so many people not working in San Francisco,” Gilbert said.

However, now that the pandemic has passed, those that have used the system hope for its return.

“I think it’s a great idea to bring carpool back because it’s really convenient for all the people working in the city,” Xu said.