Prices drive up carpooling

More families look into sharing rides to schools, coordinator says

Education Beat

September 25, 2005|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Melanie Kindt wakes up, she gets her kids ready for school and treks around her neighborhood picking up four or more other passengers for the trip to Riverside Elementary School.

The Joppa resident started carpooling a while back. But rising gas prices and the growing number of families with two working parents make for a larger crowd of riders in Kindt's car.

"I carpool because it helps my friends and the other parents not waste their gas going to the same place I'm going," Kindt said.

She isn't alone. More people are looking into carpooling arrangements, said Lyndi Richards, coordinator of Harford County's ride-share program. Richards oversees Schoolpool, a free carpool matching service started this school year in conjunction with the county's carpool and vanpool programs.

Parents can sign up online or by picking up an application at the Harford County Planning and Zoning Office.

Applicant information is confidential and is entered into a database and matched with others. A match list is mailed, and a parent can decide whether to contact someone on the list.

Richards sent information to area schools in the middle of this month, and in two weeks has received eight applications. In the carpool programs for people who share rides to work, she gets about 30 requests a month.

Richards said she hopes more people will use the service because it can save money on gasoline, give parents a break from transporting kids and thin out traffic at the schools.

"There's no doubt that the main reason people are carpooling is the high cost of gasoline," Richards said. "We initiated the Schoolpool program to target parents taking their children to school. We'd never done that before."

Some county residents shared other benefits.

Kindt, an administrative assistant for MARC trains in Harford County, said the idea of carpooling to school has always appealed to her, not just to save money on gas, but because of the social benefits for the kids.

"My kids love carpooling because they get to be with kids their own age," Kindt said of her children, Bryce, 9, and Vanessa, 7. "And it's a waste to have all these cars all going to the same place with one kid in them. It's fun to just pack them in."

Ellen McLaughlin, a physical education teacher at Riverside who monitors the parking lot in the morning, said the school has many carpoolers and that it makes the transition at the beginning of the year much easier on kids who are scared or who don't want to leave their parents.

"When kids first start school, carpooling makes it easier to get out of the car," McLaughlin said. "When kids come alone with a parent it takes forever to get them out of the car. They hug their parents and fix their hair and it slows down what's supposed to be a rolling drop-off lane. When kids are with their friends they would never hug a parent or cry or refuse to go into the building."

Debbie Benedetta carpooled her kids to Magnolia Middle and said she saw it as an opportunity to spend more time talking with her children.

"I always listened to what the kids were saying, and I knew who my kids were hanging out with," the Joppa resident said. "It's a great way to be closer to your kids and their friends."

While some parents find it easier to take their children to school themselves, Kindt said she thinks sharing the burden and good planning make it even easier.

"I understand all about flexibility," Kindt said. "But it isn't that tough to take two steps to the neighbor's front door and get the kids to school."

Richards also thinks carpooling goes a long way to building community togetherness.

"Parents today are just so busy," Richards said. "They need to share the job to get their kids to school. It's parents helping parents build a strong community."

For more information on Schoolpool and other county carpooling programs, go to www.harfordcountymd.gov/commuter or call 800-924-TOGO.

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