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Report says Californians are carpool champs

By Justin Pritchard The Associated Press
Tuesday November 20, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — With co-workers or even complete strangers, Californians love to pile into cars. Home of some of the nation’s longest commutes, the state has three of the nation’s top four cities where workers are most likely to carpool. 

But other states are gaining ground on California’s infamous car culture. 

In North Carolina’s two largest cities, the average worker just doesn’t walk to the office. They drive in droves. And the prize for the nation’s longest average schlep to work goes to New York City. 

New census data released Tuesday include details on the commutes of people living in cities with more than 250,000 residents. The estimates don’t include workers who commute to the listed cities. But they do reveal a few patterns, including Californians’ love-hate affair with their autos and the burden New Yorkers bear — they accumulate about four entire days more travel time each year than workers in Chicago, the city with the second-longest commute. 

Nationally, commute times went up during the 1990s and carpooling went down, from 13 percent of car traffic to 11 percent, according to the Census Bureau. 

But carpooling stayed in style in several California cities. 

To the surprise of city leaders, Anaheim was the nation’s carpooling king. One in four people there who take a car, truck or van to work share the ride. That’s tops in the nation according to the new census numbers. 

Three major freeway systems border the city, all with carpool lanes. Several of the city’s largest employers offer carpool incentives, including the city itself, said Anaheim spokesman John Nicoletti. Employees at Disneyland earn Disney dollars — resort scrip — for using alternative forms of transportation and the resort offers a service to match carpoolers with cars. 

The nearby Orange County city of Santa Ana and Oakland are not far behind when it comes to carpooling rates, but under very different circumstances. 

In Santa Ana, a city with a large immigrant, low-skilled work force, carpooling is the smart way to avoid exasperating bus rides to Los Angeles for a graveyard shift. 

“Carpooling is perhaps the most logical approach,” said Abel Valenzuela, a professor of urban studies professor at UCLA. 

In Oakland, the chronically clogged Bay Bridge lies between commuters and their San Francisco offices. Carpooling takes half the time — and is free. So, beginning in the 1970s, drivers began stopping by spots where the carless convene to fill up their empty seats. 

The movement called “casual carpooling” has turned into a commute staple. 

“People have discovered that they can save some time and in the case of the bridges a little bit of money if they just throw a few extra people in there,” said Steve Beroldo, a researcher with RIDES, a Bay Area commute planning service. “It’s really not that big of a hassle.” 

About 10,000 commuters use this informal system each day, said Beroldo, who spent 15 years carpooling into San Francisco. 

But when it comes to long commute times, New York ranks on top. 

The average New Yorker takes 39 minutes to get to work, 11 minutes longer each way than Los Angeles, the city with signature gridlock. 

Dragging up that average is Aaron Engel, 24, who takes an hour and 15 minutes each day to get from far out Queens to downtown Manhattan. 

“It’s very draining. It’s definitely not a pleasant experience,” Engel said of his drive-to-the-subway-and-take-two-trains trek. He thought of moving from the Belle Harbor area to Manhattan, but after September’s terrorist attacks opts to continue battling the commute. 

For some commuters, the battle is to get out of the car and hoof it to the office. 

One in eight workers in Boston walks to the office — the highest rate in the nation. By contrast, barely one in 100 people walk to work in Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C. 

With its searing summer heat and mountainous terrain, the 247-square-mile city of El Paso, Texas, fares no better. 

One walking commuter there is Art Duval, a professor of mathematical science at the University of Texas at El Paso. He strolls the mile and a half each way in a floppy hat, clutching a water bottle. 

“When I walk to campus,” Duval said, “usually, I’m the only one.” 


Associated Press Writer Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.