Clickability tracking pixel

Bay Area Commuters Pilot Carpool App

The Carma app will issue small monetary incentives for drivers and passengers interested in sharing rides.

by Andrew McGall, Contra Costa Times / November 5, 2015

(TNS) -- A ride-sharing website has entered the daily Interstate 80 commuter fray in the East Bay, and, for the moment, it promises to pay those who sign up for its phone app.

Carma, an international nonprofit group based in Ireland that claims some 50,000 registered riders and drivers in the Bay Area, is offering $50 to Contra Costans who make the I-80 commute and sign up for its app.

That's on top of its regular payment to drivers of 85 percent of its ride-sharing fee.

The ride-share promoter also has a half-price pact with San Francisco's city-owned garages.

"It's a pilot project to see if the incentives can move the needle" on ride sharing along Contra Costa's I-80 corridor, said Amy Huang, a public information officer with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which is sponsoring the project. The agency and Carma won a $456,000 federal grant to test the idea through June.

"We're testing behavior change," said Carma co-founder Paul Steinberg.

The target is clear: I-80 commute traffic backups routinely extend for miles, but the 270,000 cars that cross the Bay Bridge on weekdays include nearly 800,000 empty seats.

Filling those seats with people who otherwise would be in their own cars would ease the congestion.

The other target: 30- to 55-year-olds who commute three or more times a week from the suburbs to an urban center.

In addition to Carma's fee sharing and the $50 incentive, the program rebates part or all of the tolls for Bay Area bridges depending on the number of people in the car. It also guarantees a ride home if the need arises and the real-time app does not turn up a driver.

The Carma app maps available drivers and ride seekers. Riders who connect make a per-mile electronic payment that is credited to the driver's Carma account. Together, drivers and riders qualify for car-pool lanes.

The fee is $1 for the first mile, 20 cents a mile for the next 14 miles and 8 cents a mile after that.

"(Drivers) earn less than (the trip) costs," Steinberg said. And a ride can be given for free, if the driver chooses, he noted.

To know whether the app is a success, Carma needs know how many people are in a car. The nonprofit patented proximity programs that register the presence of members' cell phones and transmits the data -- but not the riders' identities -- to the Bay Area Toll Authority, Steinberg said.

"They get the data they need to show human behavior change," he said. "We expect a threefold increase" in members along the I-80 corridor.

The ride-sharing site for registered riders and drivers is It locates riders and drivers and shows departure and arrival streets, distance traveled and the charge.

A listing at the website reveals that one driver leaves San Pablo Avenue in Pinole at 7 a.m. weekdays for a 49.6 mile drive to Access Road in Cupertino. A ride with her is $7.72.

"Carma is in most cases cheaper than getting the bus," the company says.

The ride sharing involves no physical exchange of money. Transactions are made through online "wallets" managed by Carma.

The Carma site also details a $1 million prize for "the first developer using Carma's real-time ridesharing (program) to build an application that results in 10,000 daily user trips over a 90-day period."

©2015 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.

E.REPUBLIC Platforms & Programs