If you want a real-world example of how $4 a gallon gas began reweaving the fabric of what it is to be American — or at least what we're willing to put up with — surf over to one of the numerous online carpool-partner-matching websites and type in “Little Rock.”
At erideshare.com, a recent search yielded a crop of 38 desperate souls, most trying to line up a weekday ride downtown from one of the bedroom communities that blossomed back when a gallon of gas was cheaper than a gallon of distilled water: Beebe, Benton, Bryant, Conway. Judging by the length of time some of their posts have been up, most folks aren't having a lot of success.
Tammy Gray is a state worker who commutes daily to Little Rock from Cabot. She has a posting on the Little Rock page of erideshare.com, and chatted via e-mail with Arkansas Times. “I have joined several groups in the hope of finding a car pool/ride share arrangement that works for me, but have so far have not had any luck,” she said. “I have also contacted Central Arkansas Transit [about] a park and ride route from Cabot or thereabouts. They were quick to respond, but not with anything that helped my situation.”
A more successful pooling story is shared by Arkansas Children's Hospital employee Rosemary Pierini. Since 1994, the Sheridan resident has been taking part in the vanpool program offered by the Arkansas State Employees Association. Every day, 27 ASEA vans from as far away as Des Arc, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and Rosebud make their way to Little Rock, depositing workers at locations all over town. Officials at the ASEA said that since the price of gas skyrocketed, they've received enough applications to fill at least seven more vans if they had the funds to purchase them. Pierini, who jokingly calls herself the “social director” on her 15-passenger vanpool, drives three miles every morning to catch her ride in a church parking lot in Sheridan. Even with stops to drop off other riders, she's at work in a little over an hour. She said that if not for the vanpool, she wouldn't work in Little Rock.
“One, I do not want to drive to Little Rock every day,” she said. “Two, I do not want to find a parking place everyday. Three, I cannot work overtime. So, how many perks do you need? … I can sleep coming in, I can sleep going home, and I'm in a much better mood by the time I get home because I've already had time to chill. I just wouldn't have it any other way.”
Though the rates for riding the van have gone up with the price of gas — Pierini pays around $164 a month these days, while a ride from Des Arc will cost you $230 a month — she said that she has learned to live with the drawbacks that come with mass transit. Her husband, who works closer to home, runs any errands that arise, and if she needs to go somewhere in Little Rock during the day, a friend from work usually drives her. Twice during her time on the van, she said, family medical emergencies have arisen, and her co-workers either took her halfway to Sheridan to meet a family member, or drove her all the way home.
Pierini said that conflicts between van riders over the years have been minimal, with any slight disagreements usually arising over who sits where on the van. Other than that, she said, the riders on her van are like family.
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