Working After Sandy: Embracing The Awkward Carpool

After several days of Hurricane Sandy chaos, New Yorkers have been desperate to get back into work these last few days. But getting there is no picnic: Subways and buses have returned only fitfully to partial service, and the city is requiring that cars heading over the bridges must carry at least three riders. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports, New York is getting its first real taste of carpool culture, including picking up random strangers to give them rides around the city. Eek.

In Washington DC, Bloomberg reports, it’s common for drivers to pick up “slugs” — passengers whose presence allows the car to zip into the carpool lane. The driver gets a speedier commute, and the slug gets a free one. Mayor Bloomberg suggested Wednesday that New Yorkers do the same thing: Pick up strangers near bridges and drive them across the rivers. “You are their solution, and they are your solution as well,” he said.

San Francisco has a similar unofficial system called “casual carpool.” The rules: No chatting. No eating or drinking without permission from the driver. No talking on the phone.

One tricky thing to negotiate is whether passengers are obligated to chip in for tolls, which in New York can be hefty. In San Francisco, some drivers ask for cash, and others don’t.

There are other ways to get around the temporary carpool rules and lack of reliable public transportation. One friend of mine caught a ride to work this morning on a “hustle bus,” one of those technically illegal services that consist of an unlicensed van that follows city buses around and picks up stragglers for a small fee. And there’s always bicycling, a green, healthy option that’s looking better and better as storm effects drag on.

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