The Graduate School

Research And Opinion

Vol. 8, No. 1


By Stephen L. Percy and Jeffrey D. Racine

Increased levels of air pollution and traffic congestion, coupled with regulatory requirements emanating from the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 make it a particularly relevant time to investigate the current status and future potential of Ridesharing in the urban areas of Southeastern Wisconsin. Ridesharing--which encompasses carpools, vanpools and related forms of public transportation--represents an effective means to reduce congestion on the region's major traffic arteries and automobile emissions which contribute to substantial air quality problems in the region. This newsletter presents the results of a recent study of Ridesharing conducted by the Urban Research Center at the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee.


This newsletter presents the results of a telephone survey of over 500 residents of a seven-county region in Southeastern Wisconsin. The Rideshare study was commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which is planning to implement an expanded Rideshare program in Southeast Wisconsin, in part to enhance state compliance with the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The survey queried residents in the region about their knowledge and use of Rideshare services, their general orientation to Rideshare alternatives such as carpools and vanpools, and factors likely to enhance or discourage their future participation in the Rideshare program.

The telephone survey of residents was designed by staff at the Urban Research Center in consultation with staff at the Department of Transportation. Telephone interviews were conducted with a random sample of 504 households in the seven-county area of Southeastern Wisconsin which includes Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, and Walworth Counties. A sample of this size provides statistics with no more than a 5% error at a 95% confidence level. The sampling procedure used for the telephone interview was based on computer-generated random telephone numbers, a process that allows the inclusion of unlisted and unpublished telephone numbers in the respondent pool. (1) Attempts to contact selected households were made at times of the day likely to maximize the probability of reaching employed individuals in the household. (2)

Commuting Patterns and Vehicle Use

Transit Patterns

In order to gauge transit patterns, respondents were asked questions about their commuting patterns to and from work. The average distance traveled (one-way) to work was 10.7 miles, with a range of just under one-half of a mile to a maximum trip length of 88 miles traveled one-way. Respondents were also asked to report their time spent commuting to work. The travel time of respondents to work varied from "just a few minutes" up to and including 90 minutes one-way. The average trip length, one-way, was just over 17 minutes.

Licensed Drivers and Vehicles

The telephone survey collected information on the number of licensed drivers and licensed vehicles in each household. The number of licensed drivers over the age of 18 ranged from a minimum of zero to a maximum of six, with the average household in Southeastern Wisconsin having 2.4 drivers. The number of licensed and operational vehicles in Southeastern Wisconsin ranged from a low of zero to a high of ten. The average household has 2.3 licensed and operational vehicles at the present time.

Citizen Perception and Evaluation of Ridesharing

Awareness of Ridesharing

Respondents to the survey were queried about their knowledge of Ridesharing. When asked if they had heard previously about the Southeast Wisconsin Rideshare Program (SWRP), 47% indicated that they were aware of the program, while 53% said they were not. Of those cognizant of SWRP, 87% knew that the program assists people in forming carpools, while 13% were not aware of SWRP's role in the creation of carpool arrangements.

Survey respondents were also asked if their employers had provided them with any information on Ridesharing. Seventeen percent stated that they had received some form of rideshare information at their place of work, while 83% indicated they had not received such details from their employer.

Current Rideshare Practices

Respondents were asked a series of questions relating to their current Rideshare practices. Findings indicate that 15% of employed respondents in Southeastern Wisconsin currently utilize Rideshare activities. Conversely, 85% of those surveyed stated that they did not participate in Rideshare. These findings are consistent with two previous studies measuring Rideshare activities, which reported 15.4% of respondents in the four-county Milwaukee metropolitan area participated in Rideshare activities in 1976, while 15.3% were Ridesharing in 1982. (3)

                         Table 1
     For Those Currently Participating in Ridesharing,
              Type of Rideshare Practice Used

                                           % Yes
Carpooling with family members               25.3
Carpooling with non-family members           50.7
Vanpooling                                    5.3
Taking a train to work                        1.3
Taking the bus to work                       38.7

Note: Percentages do not total to 100% because respondents could choose
more than one option.
With regard to form of Rideshare participation, 25% of Rideshare participants carpool with members of their family, while just over half (51%) carpool with persons outside of their family (Table 1). Thirty-nine percent of current Rideshare participants stated that they commuted to work via the bus. One in twenty participated in vanpooling, while 1% of respondents said they take a train to work.

Satisfaction with Ridesharing

In addition to describing their current Rideshare activities, respondents were asked to rate their Ridesharing experience. Over 90% of current Rideshare participants were very satisfied or satisfied with their current Rideshare practices. Although 8% were dissatisfied with current arrangements, and only 1% reported being very dissatisfied, these data suggest that current participants are generally quite satisfied with Ridesharing.

When asked if participants received the benefits they initially believed would be associated with Ridesharing, 91% agreed that they were receiving expected benefits. In addition, 62% of the respondents felt they obtained benefits beyond those they thought would be associated with their Ridesharing experience.

Use of Rideshare in the Past

Thirteen percent of respondents indicated that while they are not currently Ridesharing, they had participated in a Rideshare-related activity within the last five years. A profile of past Rideshare users closely resembles that for current users. Of those respondents who said they were not current Rideshare participants, but who were participants within the last five years, 29% said that they carpooled with members of their family, while 70% stated that they carpooled with non-family members. Twenty-one percent recounted that they took the bus to work at one time or another, and just over one in nine (12.3%) indicated that they got to work via a vanpool. Only 2% of the respondents reported that they took a train to work.

Former Rideshare participants were asked a series of questions about their reasons for discontinuing their Rideshare arrangement. Table 2 details their explanations. The most common reason given for discontinuing a Rideshare arrangement was a change in the respondent's employment patterns. Almost two-thirds of former Ridesharers (65%) indicated that a change in jobs or a change in work schedule precluded them from taking advantage of their former Rideshare arrangements. Sixty percent stated they stopped Ridesharing because they got a car, while the same percentage maintained they needed more flexibility in their schedule. Thirty-nine percent of former Ridesharers said that moving prompted them to cancel their arrangements; 23% related that their Ridesharing arrangement was not dependable, while 10% cited personality conflicts in their carpool. Roughly one in twenty (5.3%) discontinued Ridesharing because they did not feel personally safe, and the same number (5.3%) reported that commuting took too much time. Just 1.8% cited increased expenses as a reason for finding a different way to work.

                     Table 2
         Reasons for Stopping Ridesharing

                                                % Yes
Changed jobs or work schedule                    64.9
Got a car                                        59.6
Needed more flexibility in schedule              59.6
Moved                                            38.6
Ridesharing arrangement was not dependable       22.8
Personality conflicts in carpool                 10.5
Didn't feel personally safe                       5.3
Commuting took too much time                      5.3
Ridesharing became too expensive                  1.8                   
The reasons identified through the telephone survey for ending participation in Ridesharing are similar to those reported in an earlier study, where the need for more flexibility and a change in job or work shifts were identified as the two most important reasons that individuals discontinued Rideshare arrangements. (4)

Perspectives on Ridesharing

All survey respondents, regardless of their mode of travel to work, were asked to evaluate a list of reasons some people cite for using ridesharing. From the list that was read to them by the survey interviewer, the respondent was asked if each reason was "very important," "somewhat important" or "not that important" to them. The responses to these questions appear in Table 3.

                               Table 3
        Reasons People Give for Considering Use of Ridesharing
                                          % Very    % Somewhat  % Not
                                                                % That 
                                         Important   Important Important
Concern for the environment                       58.5  34.5   6.9
Saving energy                                     54.8  37.1   8.1
Reducing wear and tear on personal car            43.5  38.3  18.3
Having no other practical way to travel           38.1  27.2  34.7
Getting reduced insurance rates for Ridesharing   31.7  36.9  31.3
Avoiding stress while driving on congested roads  29.2  30.4  40.5
Reducing parking problems or parking costs        28.4  24.4  47.2
Making vehicle available to other family members  12.1  23.4  64.5
Eliminating the need for a second vehicle         11.1  19.4  69.4
Companionship to and from work                    10.5  24.6  64.9
When asked about factors which might cause people to participate in Ridesharing, a concern for the environment and saving energy were the two reasons rated most often as very important, cited by 59% and 55% of the respondents, respectively. Following these concerns, three economic-related issues were most often cited as very important considerations for Ridesharing. More specifically, 44% of survey respondents reported that the thought of increased wear and tear on their personal vehicle was a very important consideration for whether or not to Rideshare, 38% cited having no other practical way to travel, and 32% noted getting reduced insurance rates through participation in Rideshare.

Among those factors least important to the general public were companionship to and from work and eliminating the need for a second vehicle, cited by 10.5% and 11.1% of the respondents, respectively.

These findings show consistency with the results of research studies on Ridesharing in Wisconsin conducted in 1976 and 1982. (5) Both of these studies found energy conservation (similar to the saving energy category of this study) to be a prominent motivation for Ridesharing. These two studies also showed that having no other practical mode of transportation to work and making one's car available to other family members were among the reasons individuals would consider using Rideshare.

The findings of this 1993 telephone survey are also consistent with those of a telephone survey conducted by the Wisconsin Survey Research Lab for the Department of Transportation in 1982. (6) Both studies identified saving (or conserving) energy, reducing wear and tear on a personal car, parking problems, and making one's car available to other family members as motivations for participation in the Rideshare program.

Ridesharing: Appealing Factors

Respondents to the telephone survey were read a question: "Now I'm going to read you some things about Ridesharing that appeal to some people. Regardless of how you presently get to work, please tell me if each item would make Ridesharing very appealing, somewhat appealing, or not that appealing to you." Respondent answers to this question are provided in Table 4.

                             Table 4
        Issues about Ridesharing that Appeal to Some People
                                           %Very    %Somewhat %Not That
                                          Appealing Appealing Appealing
Rideshare route was convenient                   58.1  29.4  12.5
Gas prices increased dramatically                56.0  25.6  18.5
Door-to-door service is provided                 55.4  23.0  21.6
Could Rideshare with only friends or coworkers   29.6  33.3  37.1
Rideshare group could meet at a "neutral" site   23.0  39.3  37.7
Ridesharing is promoted by employer              17.5  39.1  43.5
Others in carpool are all of same gender          7.5  19.8  72.6 
Three of the items in the listing read to respondents were identified by over half of respondents as factors that would make Ridesharing very appealing: convenience of the Rideshare route (58%), a dramatic increase in gasoline prices (should that occur) (56%), and door-to-door service (55%). About 30% of respondents said that limiting Rideshare to only friends and coworkers would make it very appealing and 23% stated that meeting at a "neutral" site would make Ridesharing participation very appealing. Having Ridesharing promoted by an employer (18%) and having other carpool members of the same gender (8%) were much less often cited as things that would make Ridesharing very appealing to respondents.

Ridesharing: Potential Disincentives

In order to obtain a comprehensive assessment of citizen attitudes about Ridesharing, respondents were asked to react to a variety of issues that have been identified as things about Ridesharing that people sometimes do not care for. Specifically, they were asked how important each issue was to them. Their responses are reported in Table 5.

                           Table 5
     Issues About Ridesharing That Some People Do Not Care For

                                         %Very   % Somewhat  % Not That
                                        Important Important Important
Possibility of being late for work             70.0  15.3  14.7
Having set times to go and leave from work     59.5  21.2  19.2
Concern about personal safety                  56.0  15.3  28.8
Not having a personal car at work for errands/
     emergencies                               49.8  23.2  27.0
Others smoking in carpool                      48.8  23.8  27.4
Extra traveling time                           38.7  29.8  31.5
Not having a car for work-related use          33.3  20.4  46.2
Personality conflicts among carpool members    29.8  35.1  35.1
Not knowing the people you ride with           28.0  30.4  41.7
Among the issues identified most often as very important disincentives to participating in Ridesharing are the possibility of being late for work (70%), having set times to go and leave from work (60%), concern about personal safety (56%), and not having a personal car at work for errands and emergencies (50%). Somewhat less frequently respondents mentioned having other smokers in the carpool (49%), extra traveling time (39%), not having a car for work-related use (33%), personality conflicts among carpool members (30%) and not knowing the people they ride with (28%) as very important disincentives.

Implications and Recommendations

Ridesharing represents one means by which the state and local governments in the seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin region can reduce pollution and traffic congestion, conserve energy and contribute to compliance with regulatory requirements of the federal Clean Air Act as amended in 1990.

In expanding the Rideshare program, policy makers should be cognizant of the findings of this study. One major finding is that over half of all respondents were not familiar at all with the Southeast Wisconsin Rideshare Program. If the goal of the program is to increase Ridesharing, then it is recommended that SWRP embark on an extensive education campaign to inform the public of the environmental, economic and personal benefits associated with Ridesharing. Such educational programs could tout the high satisfaction level reported by current Rideshare users.

Relatedly, since only 43% of the respondents in the survey were aware of the Southeast Wisconsin Rideshare Program, it is recommended that SWRP make a concerted effort to increase the visibility of the program and its related facilities, including park and ride lots. Given the ability of the electronic media to inform the general public almost instantaneously, a marketing campaign focusing on television and radio spots would be highly desirable. Increased use of billboards along major traffic arteries is another possible publicity strategy, one targeted specifically to drivers. Publicity campaigns are most likely to be effective by highlighting the positive environmental, economic and personal benefits associated with Ridesharing. Further, since only 17% of respondents received any Rideshare information from their employer, it is recommended that an outreach be made to both private and public employers, with whom the aforementioned benefits to employees could be discussed. The larger of these employers have additional incentive to promote Ridesharing because they are required under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to participate in the Employee Commute Options Program.

The results of this study should prove fruitful to those charged with designing the arrangements for an expanded Rideshare program. First, issues of personal convenience should be taken into account when fashioning future Rideshare policy. Study findings indicate that issues of personal convenience (e.g., convenient Rideshare route, door-to-door service [for some] and meeting at a "neutral" site [for others]) are important factors people consider when deciding whether or not to Rideshare. Along with personal convenience are factors related to respondents' personal travel preferences. Smoking concerns were cited by almost half of the sample, suggesting that policy makers make provisions in carpooling arrangements to allow Rideshare participants to select the option of a "smoking" or "non-smoking" carpool. Door-to-door travel service is another arrangement likely to enhance Rideshare participation.

Second, the issue of personal consequence should also be considered in designing Ridesharing arrangements. For example, over two-thirds of the sample identified concerns about the possibility of being late for work as a disincentive to participating in the Rideshare program.

Third, personal safety was found to be a key consideration in peoples' Ridesharing decisions, another survey finding related to program design. About 50% of men and over 60% of women respondents, for example, cited concern about personal safety as a disincentive to Ridesharing. Further, just over 37% of women voiced concern about Ridesharing when they do not know the people they ride with. These concerns suggest that program designers should be attuned to safety considerations when devising future arrangements for Ridesharing.


1. This sampling procedure first randomly selects telephone prefixes using information on the desired sample size and the number of working telephone lines within each prefix (the first three numbers of a local telephone number) used within the seven-county region of Southeastern Wisconsin. A sampling quota system is used to determine the number of respondents to be interviewed in each prefix based on the number of telephones operating in the telephone prefix.

2. The first question on the survey was a screening question through which the interviewer asked to speak with someone in the household who is eighteen years and older and who is currently employed outside the home. If no person matched this description, the interview was terminated. Calls were made Monday through Friday, 3:00 to 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, 10:00-5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. Callbacks were sometimes made at other times, depending upon information received during the initial contact with a household. Two attempts were made per household to contact an appropriate respondent.

3. See Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Evaluation of the Milwaukee Area Rideshare Program: 1979-1982, Waukesha, WI: Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, 1983, p. 11.

4. Rhonda Wiley-Jones, et al., Wisconsin Rideshare: 1982 Public Opinion Survey of Ridesharing, Madison, WI: Department of Transportation, 1983, p.III-10.

5. The two studies are reported in Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Evaluation of the Milwaukee Area Rideshare Program: 1979-1982, Waukesha, WI: Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, 1983.

6. Rhonda Wiley-Jones, et al., Wisconsin Rideshare: 1982 Public Opinion Survey of Ridesharing, Madison, WI: Department of Transportation, 1983, p. III-7.

Stephen L. Percy, who joined the UWM faculty in 1988, is Associate Professor of Political Science and Interim Director of the Urban Research Center. He received his A.B. degree in Government from Hamilton College and his Ph.D. in political science from Indiana University. His research interests include urban politics and governance, public policy implementation, and disability rights policy.

Jeffrey D. Racine, who received his B.A. degree in sociology from St. Olaf College, is a doctoral student in Urban Studies at UWM and a Research Assistant at the Urban Research Center. His research interests include the intersection of race and class, political attitudes of the black middle class, and the social implications of the proposed "information superhighway."

Research and Opinion is a publication of the Urban Research Center located in the Graduate School at the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee.

The Urban Research Center, created in 1974, contributes to UWM's urban mission by encouraging and supporting inter-disciplinary, theory-building research and practice relevant to policy issues of urban society. To achieve its mission the center encourages collaborative, multi-disciplinary research, facilitates linkages among campus researchers, disseminates information on urban research conducted on campus, organizes and facilitates public forums on topical urban issues, and conducts basic and applied research related to urban policy.

The opinions expressed in Research and Opinion represent those of the authors alone, and their publication does not constitute an endorsement by the Urban Research Center, the Graduate School, or the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee.


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