Alan Hawes // The Post and Courier
Jesse Watts (right) and her neighbor Jackie Regan now share the driving from West Ashley’s Avondale area to Kiawah Island to save money on gas.
Jackie Regan jokes about feeling eerie when a woman followed her to work one morning.
Regan, a West Ashley resident, noticed the woman in the car beside her at a stoplight in Avondale and wondered if she lived in her neighborhood.
The women then drove an identical path to their jobs at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, where Regan is golf services manager and Jessie Watts is recruiting manager. Now they know they are neighbors and have been commuting from Avondale to Kiawah in one vehicle for a few months.
Sometimes it's Regan's vehicle, sometimes Watts'.
The two are among a growing number of workers across the country coping with rising gasoline prices by sharing rides. Local employees are looking for ways to manage the cost of getting themselves to work, and some employers are already actively promoting ridesharing.
Trident Rideshare is actively encouraging carpooling. The federally funded, web-based initiative is designed to help match up those wanting to carpool (www.tridentrideshare.com).
Vonie Gilreath, mobility manager with Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, said workers and employers have responded positively as she educates them about the program. It matches those looking for someone who lives near them who travels in the same direction or to the same organization for work.
Those looking to share rides include workers at SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic, with more than 2,300 employees; Trident Technical College, with more than 677 employees, and Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which has about 1,200.
"I am looking at saving about $100 a month," said Watts, who drives an SUV. "I'm thinking mine might be $75 to $80 a month because I have a car," said Regan. Quite a few people who live in West Ashley have talked about joining their ridesharing venture, and they would welcome them.
Right now, the two stop for coffee at Alchemy in Avondale and grab their breakfasts at Normandie Farms on Johns Island in the mornings.
They work slightly different schedules, so one arrives at work about 30 minutes early and the other leaves about 30 minutes late. But the two said they are flexible and can work out an arrangement to include another person if asked.
"We didn't really know each other when we first started," said Watts. "And now I consider Jackie a good friend of mine."
In addition to gasoline cost savings and camaraderie, ride-sharing helps to reduce the air pollution caused by automobile emissions.
Saving money is on top of everyone's mind now, said Jennifer Bozard, human resources manager at the Kiawah resort. The resort has added a link to its internal employee website and encourages them to use it. It makes it easier for employees on the 10-mile island to find out about ride-sharing possibilities they wouldn't know about.
The college also has a web link in its employee newsletter to help those seeking another employee for ridesharing.
Lisa Jeffries, a database manager at Trident Technical College, hesitated when co-workers Bill Griffin and Keith Rumrill asked her to join their carpool. She had thought that adjusting her routine would be impossible, because it includes taking her toddler to preschool.
But when the cost to fill her SUV's tank increased from $60 to $75, she reconsidered the offer and accepted. Now she's cut the need to refill her tank in half, rising earlier to take her child to preschool, and returning to be picked up for work or pick up the others.
"The benefits outweigh the weird attachment I had to my car," Jeffries said. "It's not as big a transition as it seemed. More people should give it a try. Making that initial step is hardest. You get used to it. You just have to get into a different habit."
Jeffries joined Bill Griffin, who drives a PT Cruiser, and Keith Rumrill, who drives a pickup truck, in August, Griffin said. The two men started carpooling when gas spiked in 2008. Griffin said before carpooling, he would fill up every week instead of every other week.
Griffin sees other benefits too.
"It's not just the gas prices, but wear and tear on the car," he said. "Plus, any day I don't personally have to drive the Don Holt Bridge I am thankful."
Gilreath had a Council of Governments booth at SSC Atlantic's Earth Day program to inform its employees about the Trident Rideshare program, said Jeff Meyers, its safety and environmental manager.
SSC Atlantic has more than 2,000 employees living in the major population centers of the tri-county area, Meyers said. Trident Rideshare could help to match employees who want to carpool with each other. As gas prices remain high, ridesharing will take place.
Lonnie Cowart, spokesman for SSC Atlantic, said the company will encourage employees to use the rideshare program not only to reduce fuel consumption, but for environmental benefits.
Ridesharing also will provide the opportunity for more camaraderie among employees and reducing SSC Atlantic contribution to traffic congestion.
SSC Atlantic project engineer Andrew McLoud is in a three-person carpool with employees who live near him on James Island. SSC Atlantic rewarded them for their efforts, begun in August, with a parking spot in front of the building. The new parking spot cuts their walks from the parking lot by 50 to 500 yards.
"Whoever is ready first goes over to the others' houses and picks them up," McLoud said. "It gives us a chance to catch up on what everybody is doing at work, what they're planning on doing for the weekend."
Trident Rideshare, a Federal Transit Administration project, is becoming more well-known, and includes options well beyond carpooling.
For example, through Trident Roadshare, people who don't drive can seek a shared ride via the website. People can travel together to big local events, like Family Cup or the Bridge Run, or they can find a match for a ride out of town, provided it starts in the three-county area.
The website also advises that people needn't carpool every day, and that flexibility is an advantage.