Casual Carpool

When I had my first job in San Francisco, I was living in Oakland at the time, and my mom suggested I take Casual Carpool. It was what she’d been taking for years before when she had worked in SF as well.

What is it?

  • Crossing the Bay Bridge during commute hours, there’s often traffic backed up at the toll.
  • There’s a carpool lane exclusively for cars with at least 3 passengers. To drive on this lane during commute hours had previously been free. It currently costs $3 toll.
  • Riders want to get to SF from Oakland, and they go to a designated place to get picked up by drivers.
  • Drivers want to get to SF from Oakland, and they go to a designated place to pick riders up.
  • By teaming up:
    • Both riders and drivers get to use the carpool lane
    • The driver saves approximately 15-20 minutes of commute time
    • The riders only pay $1 to cross the bridge!


  • What if the driver/rider is weird? We live in a community of varying types of people with varying types of personalities. Some people end up talking a lot, and some people end up just looking at their phones the whole time. It’s a great opportunity to expand your horizons and be in touch with a variety of people you wouldn’t otherwise normally interact with.
  • Is it safe? What if the driver/rider is a murderer? How do they know that YOU’RE not the murderer? Should we be worried about YOU?
  • Who runs it? Is there an organization or company or website? Nope. The locations are passed down by word of mouth, and there is no company that’s making a profit out of the carpoolers’ behaviors. It’s a community of people working together for the benefit of all.
  • How much does it cost? For drivers, you’re not expected to pay anything. For riders, you’re expected to give the driver $1 as a courtesy to help pay for toll. Some drivers choose not to accept it. You’re kind of a dick if you don’t offer the $1. C’mon: it’s ONE DOLLAR, and it’s cheaper than any other option you have available to cross the bridge.
  • When can I carpool? The Bay Bridge carpool lane is only open until 10am, so it’s best to be at your carpool pickup area at a reasonable time before then. The carpool lane and discount is only available for use on work days (M-F).

Some tips on etiquette

  • This isn’t the same as a car sharing service like Uber or Lyft. You’re in someone else’s car and space, and it isn’t their job to be driving you. Be respectful and courteous to each other.
  • IMHO, talking on your phone in someone else’s car is not very nice. If I ever need to do so, I like to ask the driver and other passengers if it’s alright or at the least acknowledge that it’s an important call I need to pick up and that I’ll make it quick.
  • Drivers have a choice of what music to listen to, and the safest music you’ll often hear is NPR, news radio, classical, or jazz. Some drivers will play adult contemporary. I’ve gotten compliments of my choice of the Best of Billy Joel. :)
  • It’s nice to offer to drop off passengers closer to Market Street or down further on Howard if you’re already headed in that direction, especially on rainy days.
  • Only 3 passengers in total are required to use the carpool lane, but some drivers may offer to have a 4th passenger, especially if there’s a long line of riders waiting; riders should ask if this is OK before attempting to get into a car as a 4th passenger.

A couple notes

  • Pick-up trucks and other 2-seater cars (like sports cars) only require 2 passengers to qualify for carpool. I’ve noticed some women don’t feel comfortable getting in the car when the driver is a man and it’s a situation like this. I happily step forward and take the seat in their stead.
  • Sometimes, a taxi rolls up. Sitting in the front can be difficult for folks with longer legs, as some of the leg room is taken up by electronics (a computer?) for the taxi.
  • There are sometimes couples who ride together, but they end up being split up because there’s not enough room in a car for them. I like to help them out if I can and let them in front of me if it works better for them. It’s cute to see couples carpooling together!