As the delicate imbalance of housing and jobs has fueled regional traffic woes, the cities of San Mateo and Foster City are looking toward a smartphone app to help reduce the number of people driving alone.
The neighboring communities signed on to work with Scoop Technologies, a mobile carpool application that aims to make sharing a ride with a coworker or neighbor more flexible and reliable.
The app is geared toward people who either work or live in the community, and allows drivers to make a little extra cash during their regular commutes while riders can avoid getting behind the wheel.
In an effort to promote the app, the cities have agreed to help subsidize the cost of rides by guaranteeing carpoolers will only pay $2 per one-way trip while program funds remain.
Last week, the Foster City Council unanimously agreed to offer up to $60,000 toward the program during the initial six-month pilot period. San Mateo has made a similar agreement extending $30,000 toward keeping costs initially lower.
Foster City, a community bordered by two highways and the Bayfront, has sought to reconcile job growth with regional traffic congestion while priding itself on quality of life.
Robert Sadow, cofounder and CEO of Scoop, spoke to the Foster City Council about how the company strives to work with Bay Area municipalities and large employers to make carpooling easier for both drivers and riders.
“The tension between economic development and quality of life in the city are real things,” Sadow said, according to a video of the meeting. “I think it’s something that really drives me, drives us as a company, is how do you make it possible for cities to grow, to pursue economic development, without feeling like they’re making sacrifices in quality of life?”
Even though it’s more expensive to drive alone, commuters often make trade-offs to have the reliability of their own car. Two prime reasons people don’t choose to carpool is it can be challenging to find someone to share a ride with, and commuters don’t always know when they’ll want to leave work, Sadow said.
But Scoop helps make carpooling more flexible as well as reliable, he said. Users can book a morning ride until about 9 p.m. the night before, and have until around noon or mid-day to book a trip home. Plus, Scoop guarantees a user gets home by paying for the cost of a taxi or rideshare like Uber, if they can’t find a carpool or have an emergency, Sadow said.
Since the company began in 2015, Sadow said 35,000 Bay Area residents have signed up for Scoop. The company has organized over 200,000 carpool trips accounting for 1.5 million miles of driving being avoided, and reduced hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted, according to Sadow.
“Congestion is not just an issue in Foster City, it’s a top three issue probably in every metro area in the world. And our mission as a company is how do you not make congestion a top three issue in every metro area? How do you not make getting back and forth to work the worst hour or two hours in somebody’s daily experience?” Sadow said.
The average trip in the Bay Area is about 20 miles and Scoop users typically pay about $6 per ride. Having the cities help subsidize the initial cost is a meaningful incentive that helps get people to consider — and ultimately adopt — carpooling, Sadow said.
Over the six-month period, the city will extend up to $60,000 from its Sustainable Foster City Fund, accounting for up to 7,500 trips, said Assistant Foster City Manager Dante Hall.
Councilman Gary Pollard excitedly said he’d be thrilled to sign up and share his daily commute to the Caltrain station.
“Whether I drive or use carpool, I’d be happy to get involved in this,” Pollard said.
The program is open to both residents commuting out of the city or employees heading in to their Foster City offices.
“I would like to encourage all of our residents to use Scoop and be part of reducing traffic and reducing our carbon footprint,” Councilman Sam Hindi said.
San Mateo is allocating $30,000 toward the program and expects to launch the program in early October, according to Kathy Kleinbaum, San Mateo’s interim economic development manager.
Ideally, having both cities participate will generate even more interest in the program thus making carpooling more accessible.
Commute.org estimates half of San Mateo County residents are commuting outside the county and while carpooling may not be a silver bullet to resolving traffic woes, Kleinbaum said it helps diversify options.
“The intent is to reduce traffic congestion by helping raise awareness and encourage the use of alternate commute options,” Kleinbaum said in an email. “There is no one solution that works for everyone, but we hope that by offering a diverse array of menu options (train, bus, shuttle, bike share, carpool and even car share) that we can make a dent on this traffic situation we are in.”
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