Thursday, October 13, 2005

Peak Oil Crisis: Peak Oil & Car Pools

Falls Church News-Press

August 18, 2005

If we had to rank essential uses for oil, transporting a single person to work would have to fall somewhere near the bottom. At the top would be fueling the tractors that plant and harvest our food. Food transport trucks, and a long list of other kinds of trucks and buses, would be listed before we get to the family car.

When oil depletion comes, getting people out of their single person car will have to be one of our top priorities to mitigate even the early stages of the crisis.

According to the 2000 Census, some 76% of Americans drive alone to work, while 11% are in a car pool. Five percent take public transport and the rest walk, bike, or work at home. Current use of the family car is roughly one-third for getting to work or around while at work, one-third for shopping and personal business, and one-third for recreation.

It is clear an effective system for sharing automobile trips would quickly result in very significant savings of gasoline, extend the life of our current cars, and lead to marked reductions in traffic congestion and air pollution.

What might a modern car pooling system look like?

One of the few things about the coming peak oil crisis we should all be thankful for is that the Internet was invented and has became nearly universal. As the crisis deepens, we shall find many new uses for the Internet as a substitute for personal travel.

A modern ride-sharing system would be Internet based. Government authority would set it up and the force of law would support some aspects of the system.

Car-pooling would start with those needing to avail themselves of its services registering on a web site. One registration session should be enough to get all of one’s basic information into the system: name, address, the place one needs to go, phone numbers, email addresses, time you would like to leave, credit card numbers etc. The information could be edited to account for the needs of people such as construction workers who frequently switch work locations. One’s ability to drive a car pool and type of vehicle would also be registered.

After an individual’s information had been verified—credit card seems good, has a valid driver’s license, liability insurance, OK, not currently wanted by the police, etc.—one would be issued a car pool ID number.

Every day one wanted to car pool on the following day, they would have to do is call up his password protected car pool account and check tomorrow.

Overnight, the computers would run and generate a car pool for the next day. By dawn, the car pool members would be sent emails listing who would be in that day’s car pool, who would be the designated driver, times and place of pickup and drop off, etc.

Money to pay for the trip would be automatically transferred from the accounts of the passengers to that of the driver. The driver would also receive an authorization to park for the day at or near the place of work and perhaps an authorization to buy gasoline for the trip if fuel gets very tight.

Control of parking, or gasoline purchase authorizations, would be the major lever to induce people into car pools whether they wanted to or not. The government could simply phase in a system under which no one without a car pool parking permit would be allow to park in public or private lots.

The myriad of details involved in a car pool system is too much to discuss here. The basic point, however, is that a substantial portion of the nations consumption of gasoline could be eliminated by ending one-person car trips.

A role for the government would be to guarantee the integrity of the system as well as providing whatever coercion is necessary to force people into.

The concept that the driver of the day would receive some compensation for his services beyond direct costs also seems valid. If a carpool driver received extra fuel allocations or learned to save gas through careful driving, there would be long lines of people volunteering to be drivers.

There is no reason why an Internet based car pool system would have to be limited to commuting. Joint trips could be set up to malls, entertainment, the beach, and intercity trips. The possibilities are endless. The point is to reduce the consumption of shrinking supplies of gasoline.


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