I made a resolution at the beginning of this year — to drive less. And so I’ve jumped on the carpooling wagon. With a few incentives, I think more commuters might jump on, too.

Carpooling gained status around the time of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. A recent ABC report showed carpooling has more or less lost its cool factor. The report revealed in the U.S., while the number of commuters has climbed steadily over the past three decades, the number of those who carpool has decreased.

Things are slightly better this side of the border — Statistics Canada found people getting to work as a passenger in a car represented 7.7 per cent of all commuters in 2006, compared to 6.9 per cent in 2001, an increase of 209,200 people. Across Canada, over a five-year period, that’s really not much to write home about though.

Similarly, Calgary’s carpool program has more than 3,000 active participants registered, apparently making it one of Canada’s most successful carpool programs — yikes.

Carpooling saves some cash, provides a buddy to chat with and offers a convenient excuse to leave work on time. But it comes with some compromise as well. Gone is the flexibility to hit snooze if you choose, impress the boss and stay late, add a few errands onto your route home or command the radio dial.

The city could do more to make the benefits of carpooling (or hopping aboard any multi-passenger vehicle, for that matter) outweigh the drawbacks. We only have one short span of a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane in Calgary located on Centre Street north. HOV lanes benefit those who choose to carpool or take transit, allowing them to zip past their single-occupant counterparts.

It’s an opportunity missed. In Ontario, just 14 per cent of commuters carpooled on Highway 403 in 2003, but that number jumped to almost 40 per cent after an HOV lane was added. Clearly, HOV lanes can work.

Calgary is doing some things right. The city partners with Carpool.ca, a site designed to match carpoolers. The Calgary Parking Authority has also developed preferential parking for carpoolers (same goes for most post-secondary institutions in the city). And the city supports Rideshare Week.

HOV lanes are the infrastructure piece that’s missing in our city though — they could reduce congestion, decrease travel times for multi-occupant vehicles and discourage driving solo. They could put the cool back in carpooling.

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