A new way to 'Get There'
Bob Sack remembers walking his dogs up State Street toward Highway 43 in the morning more than year ago. He was struck by how many cars carried only one person, and it made him think about carpooling.
At about the same time, Sack — who's on the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network (LOSN) Board of Directors — and others from the organization met with representatives from Metro to talk about transportation options. That's when LOSN discovered Metro's new Regional Travel Options Marketing Grant, which supports communities that want to increase walking, biking, ride sharing, telecommuting and public transit use to reduce pollution and improve mobility.
LOSN was awarded up to $35,000 in grant funds in August to work with consultants to complete the project and promote a carpooling tool and trip planner called Get There Oregon. The website was launched in July and LOSN is the first community to apply to promote the tool.
On the website, people can plug in their route and then a list of carpooling options is formed — or other transit options — for specific times and days of the week. The rider has an opportunity to connect with the person they would carpool with ahead of time to meet or hash out details. People can also plug in their location and destination to be a driver.
"Lake Oswego is a great test case for that work, to inform how we can do outreach to the many residents in our region who commute outside of their city to larger urban centers," said Marne Duke, Metro communications specialist, in an email. "We're excited to learn from LO residents what are the barriers that prevent them from using travel options, how we help reduce those barriers and incentivize non-drive-alone trips to reduce congestion."
According to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 5,000 Lake Oswego residents commute to Portland for work and more than 12,000 people who live in Lake Oswego are employed somewhere outside of the city. On the other hand, there are more than 17,000 people who live outside of Lake Oswego and are employed in the city, according to 2017 data. This is why Sack said carpooling is a solid option to decrease congestion on Highway 43, save money on gas and downtown parking, and do something green for the environment.
"Carpooling has been, in the past, much more popular than it is now — up to about 20% of people (carpooled) to work or school back during the Jimmy Carter oil crisis or in World War II when it was considered quite unpatriotic to drive your own car without offering somebody a ride. Now it's down to about 8 or 9% nationwide," Sack said. "Data from Lake Oswego suggests it's about the same here, so the question is, could we possibly improve on that?"
Sack admits that while there are good reasons for people to carpool, it's difficult to increase the number of drivers who actually opt in.
"We realize we have quite a challenge, but we thought we'd give it a try," he said. "If we could get 5% of SOVs (single occupancy vehicles), if we could get 5% of those to carpool it would open up over 600 seats.
"But we are asking for a big behavior change."
The Get There Oregon program doesn't allow for payment exchange like other carpooling programs and apps on the market like Waze and Scoop that reimburse the driver a certain amount per mile.
"Most carpooling programs have been employer-centered, with the idea that people working at the same place would have a logical reason to want to carpool," Sack said. "The only problem with that is they may live in diffuse geographic areas. One of the hopes is we (Lake Oswego) are sort of a bedroom community so a lot of people who live in Lake Oswego work in downtown Portland or they may work at OHSU, so they have both an origin and destination in common."
"We are hoping to get more sign-ups," Sack said. "In order for any carpooling app to work, it needs to be a certain density of subscribers or people willing to try it out because you need to have a number of people who are living in a relative proximity."
Check out the Get There Oregon website to learn more.
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