- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments launched an improved ride-matching service Tuesday as gas prices have motorists looking for more affordable ways to commute.

The council presented the revamped Commuter Connections Web site after a preliminary launch last month. The new site, www.mwcog.org/commuter2, allows users to manage their profiles directly to more easily find car pools, van pools and other options for their commuting needs.

Commuter Connections helps motorists find others who live and work near them. It also operates the Guaranteed Ride Home program, which provides car-poolers and transit users with a ride home in the event of an emergency or if they’re required to work unscheduled overtime that causes them to miss their usual ride.

In addition, the new Web site provides comprehensive information about transit options, park-and-ride lots and teleworking centers along a given route.

Nicholas Ramfos, director of Commuter Connections, said the revamped system gives commuters better tools and information to make decisions.

“Like opening a new road or a new bus service, this is a new piece of infrastructure for the region that’s going to serve the commuting public,” he said.

The process of revamping the system has taken two years. The timing of the launch — in a year when gas prices have exceeded $4 a gallon — was fortuitous.

Prices at the pump appear to have triggered a surging demand for car pools, Mr. Ramfos said. In June, for example, 2,063 people applied for ride-matching services through Commuter Connections, nearly three times the number who applied in June 2007. In July, the service received 1,667 applications, or about twice as many as the previous July.

“I think the money is the prime motivator,” Mr. Ramfos said.

Time also continues to be a key factor, he said. The region’s notorious congestion, combined with a network of HOV lanes that allow car pools to avoid much of the traffic, help encourage ride-sharing. About 12 percent of D.C. workers carpool, Mr. Ramfos said.

Carrie Hershberger, who lives in Loudoun County, found a car pool through a county program when she started her job in Northwest more than four years ago. In her arrangement, one person always drives and the other riders pay an agreed-upon sum.

“There’s no way I would want to drive by myself in the District,” said Miss Hershberger, 62. “I don’t have the patience or the courage.”

She’s also happy to avoid parking expenses and the wear and tear on her own vehicle.

However, Miss Hershberger also understands why so many people drive alone.

“I would really prefer to have my own wheels,” she said. “Once I’m here, I’m stuck.”

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