Commuter Website Hopes for Lots of Traffic

Times Staff Writer

John Enriquez is a veteran carpooler.

With a home in northwest Bakersfield and a job 80 miles south in Santa Clarita, Enriquez gave up solo commuting 13 years ago when a co-worker moved nearby.

Three years ago, another employee in the city’s street maintenance department relocated to Bakersfield, and the trio decided to buy a used car just for getting back and forth to work.

Enriquez figures it doesn’t make financial sense to drive alone, which he estimates costs $25 a day. By splitting all costs -- about $90 a week for gas and $150 a month for maintenance, repairs and insurance -- each man spends closer to $8 a day, according to Dwight Wiggins, the carpool’s bookkeeper.


“It’s worked extremely well,” said Enriquez, who appreciates the reduced stress of driving every third week. “What’s really important is the wear and tear on the body. I wake up at 3:20 in the morning, and when I’m not driving, I get to take a little nap.”

Statistics from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees transit service in Los Angeles County, indicate carpools are the leading mode of transport for people registered with the agency’s ride-share program, designed to steer people away from solo driving.

Although nearly 25,000 of those people take a bus or train on a typical weekday, more than 62,000 team up in personal vehicles, and almost 8,400 more commute as part of a vanpool. Together, car- and vanpoolers represent about 16% of the registered participants.

Hoping to increase those numbers to help alleviate roadway congestion and reduce air pollution, transit officials in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties recently introduced a website to provide coordinated information about carpools, bus and train schedules and updated traffic information.

The Jan. 24 official launch of was accompanied by a $1-million radio ad campaign paid for with a portion of funds set aside from vehicle registration fees to curb mobile pollution sources.

An initial three-week blitz on 17 radio stations, including five Spanish and three Asian-language stations, during morning and afternoon drive times featured commercials touting the new site.


To keep the Commute name in front of the public, officials are sponsoring radio traffic reports all year and plan concentrated runs of the commercials in April and September.

The site was accessed by nearly 9,100 computers during the first week the ads were aired, and it received nearly half a million hits -- a measure of each time a page on the site is viewed.

“The beauty of this Internet program is that they can get online whenever they want,” said David Sutton, who manages commuter programs for the MTA. “We can service clients day or night. It’s a really powerful tool.”

Along with a database of about 141,000 potential carpool companions, has an interactive bus and train trip planner covering the five counties, locations of park-and-ride lots, carpool lanes and maps of bicycle routes.

It also has a “commuter calculator” for an instant estimate of how much a motorist could save if he or she stopped driving alone. For example, it costs $6,512 annually to commute 40 miles a day in a car that gets 25 miles per gallon, a tally that is halved with one passenger and shrinks to $1,628 with a daily carpool of four people.

Carolyn Ortman, the Orange County Transportation Commission’s ride-share administrator, said a popular feature of the website is the real-time traffic and weather information.


Colorized maps of major freeways from Camarillo to San Juan Capistrano monitor the severity of traffic, accident updates and road closures. Pop-up boxes give estimates of how much time it’ll take to get through traffic, and links to Caltrans cameras provide snapshots of road conditions.

Ernesto Martinez, a senior equipment mechanic in Laguna Beach, said he heard a Commute commercial and got curious about a traffic backup on his way to his Midway City home. He called his wife, who checked the site and told him about an accident ahead.

“It was pretty darn accurate,” Martinez said, adding that he had since visited the site to devise alternate routes when gridlock threatened his commute.

After reviewing his commuting costs, Martinez said he planned to ask his supervisors at work to consider starting a vanpool.

Caltrans estimates vehicles with two or more passengers using carpool lanes save more than 30 seconds for each mile traveled.

But Peter Faino of Palmdale, who has logged at least 550,000 miles over 19 years taking a vanpool to his job in Woodland Hills, said using the carpool lanes on the Antelope Valley and San Diego freeways doesn’t net the time savings of years past.


“It might save 10 to 15 minutes,” said the Northrop Grumman test engineer, who drives the van three days a week. “It used to be better, but it’s getting crowded with a lot of people.”