Carpooling to Work: A Look at the Real Benefits and Drawbacks

December 27, 2012

According to the American Automobile Association, the cost of owning and operating a vehicle is, on average, nearly $9,000 per year based on an estimated 1,250 miles driven each month. Compared to estimates from 2011, fuel is up 14.8%, tire costs are up 4.2%, maintenance is up .7% and insurance is up 3.4%.

If a teacher just starting out was on the high end of that number, transportation alone could consume nearly 25% of their gross income.

But is the financial payback of carpooling significant enough to place a sizeable dent in that astronomical figure and make up for the inconvenience of sharing a ride? Let’s take a look.

Financial Benefits:

For a commute that’s an average of 32 miles roundtrip, $3.50 per gallon on gas, $0 on parking, and $.12 per mile depreciation (for a vehicle that is 3-8 years old), that adds up to a $595.20 per year—$396.80 of which could be offset if you commute with two other people.

(You can calculate your actual savings for your particular commuting scenario here. )

However, the savings don’t necessarily stop there. According to the Commuter Tax Benefits, employers can give their employees up to $125 per month to cover transit or vanpool costs, or they can allow employees to use pre-tax income to pay for vanpooling, or they can offer a combination of the two.  The result is a tax deduction and payroll tax savings for the employer and a potentially large cost savings for the employee.

In addition, if you do happen to pay for parking and/or tolls along the way, splitting those costs among a group can add up over the long run.

Other Perks:

Saving time -

If you spend a lot of time on the highway, carpooling is a great way to shave off a significant amount of your commute time by using HOV lanes. Also, for the days you aren’t in the driver’s seat, you can use that commute time for other tasks – responding to emails, reading, etc.

Saving the environment -

If you’re looking for ways to be more eco-friendly and cut down on your environmental impact, carpooling can help with that. Studies have shown that the average American car emits 23,600lbs of CO2 per year. Cutting down just 25 miles a week would eliminate 1,500lbs of that.


The biggest downside to carpooling is likely the loss of freedom offered by having your car at the office. If you want to go out to lunch, or if you happen to have a family emergency, you may not be able to get to where you need to go.

In addition, schedules can always change. If your fellow carpooler ends up being called into a late afternoon meeting, you may be stuck waiting when you’d rather be on your way home.

So do the pros outweigh the cons? It depends on your particular situation. If you drive less than ten miles to work or if your schedule is somewhat sporadic, this probably isn’t the route to take. But if you have a long commute and you can handle being without a car during the day, the extra money in your wallet might make it all worth it.

Find a carpool group near you:

North Front Range - Smart Trips

Colorado Springs Metro Mountain Riders

Denver MetroRideArrangers

Do you ride in a carpool? How do you make it work for you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.