Carpooling in real life: how four UW employees make it work

Plus: comprehensive ridesharing resources

UW–Madison is notable among universities in the Midwest for operating an employee carpool program. At its peak in 2018-19, there were 78 official carpools on campus, in addition to any carpools not registered with Transportation Services.

During the pandemic, reduced campus operations and social distancing made carpooling difficult. Now that employee work schedules have stabilized and public health restrictions have relaxed, can carpooling make a comeback?

Although carpooling can be a wise choice financially and for the environment, the day-to-day logistics of ridesharing can easily get in the way of considering it a viable commute option. What if someone needs to leave mid-day for an off-campus appointment? Can you run errands before or after work? What if someone has highly specific musical tastes?

Because these details matter, we talked to members of three ridesharing groups to learn how and why they make carpooling a practical, and even preferable choice.

Why carpool?

Vicki Sekel, an accountant for the College of Letters & Science, was new to campus in 2001. She was commuting from Beaver Dam, and fuel prices were on the rise. Looking to share expenses, Vicki found a work colleague — also from Beaver Dam — who was open to carpooling. Soon the Beaver Dam carpool included five riders! Over the years, if a carpool member retired, a new member could be found from among the members’ circles of work colleagues. One of these colleagues was Jeff Henslin from Ripon, who still commutes with Vicki today.

B,” a UW-Extension employee and her spouse, also a UW employee, were already driving together when they heard of the UW carpool program. Living relatively close to campus, they registered as a two-person carpool because the benefits provided more flexibility for childcare needs. Years later, their daughter also became a UW employee, and the family of three was able to apply for a UW carpool permit.

Juli Gray recently began carpooling with her two daughters. She and her daughters had each been on a long parking permit waiting list on the west side of campus when Juli learned that riding together would allow them to apply for a UW carpool permit and bypass the waiting list altogether.

Infographic showing key definitions related to carpooling at UW-Madison.
Learn carpooling lingo. Click to enlarge.

What does a typical commute look like?

B’s family drives to campus together and alternates parking duties. They either drop each other off at their buildings and then park, or park and walk if the weather is nice. Throughout the day, they coordinate schedules via text message and send updates when it’s time to leave.

Vicki’s carpool group would meet at an agreed-upon location in Beaver Dam at 5:30 a.m. and drive to campus. Whoever was driving that day would drop off everyone else at their respective buildings, and then park and walk to their own building. This pattern worked in reverse at the day’s end, and everyone got back to the meeting place in Beaver Dam at 4:30 p.m.

Juli’s daughters live near each other, and they drive across town to pick Juli up in west Madison. All three work in the same building on campus, so they park in Lot 76 (University Bay Drive Ramp) and walk in to work together.

What are some challenges, and how are they addressed?

“A carpool is all about whatever the group agrees on.” — Vicki Sekel

One perceived obstacle to carpooling is the loss of autonomy associated with driving alone, but a group-oriented outlook and good communication made this a non-issue for the Beaver Dam carpool. For example, the group agreed on a radio station (Magic 98), when to stop for snacks before or after work, and even cabin temperature. Members would also adjust to group decisions. For example, if someone knew they tended to run cold, they would dress more warmly, and vice versa.

Carpooling can also place limits on running errands, scheduling non-work appointments, or suddenly having to leave campus early. The Beaver Dam carpool worked around these limitations by communicating, planning ahead, and relying on backup parking options. For example, Vicki scheduled off-campus appointments in Madison on days she was assigned to drive, and Jeff kept a Flex parking permit for days he couldn’t join the carpool. Jeff notes that the group would collectively decide to leave early if bad weather was forecast.

For B’s family carpool, the biggest challenge is managing unexpected schedule changes. They rely on alternative transportation options to mitigate uncertainties. They make use of the daily parking passes that are available to carpool members and each family member has an employee bus pass to use as backup. They have not yet used the Emergency Ride Home option, but it gives B peace of mind to know that a free cab ride home is another resource.

Similarly, Juli’s family plans ahead when they need to ride separately. They use the free daily passes on days they are unable to ride together due to off-campus appointments and other obligations.

What are the benefits?

“[Carpooling] made us plan our days more carefully – which is good for us financially and for the environment.” — B

Infographic showing the benefits of the UW carpool program, including six free daily parking passes, eligibility for the Emergency Ride Home program, and the opportunity to split transportation costs.
What are the main benefits of carpooling at UW-Madison? Click to enlarge.

For B, the adjustments required to make carpooling work are beneficial in and of themselves. For example, learning how to use Metro Transit as a backup transportation solution has been an unexpected benefit of carpooling.

Additionally, applying for a UW carpool permit allowed B’s family to bypass the parking permit waiting list and receive an assignment in a covered garage which B says, “in the winter is wonderful!”

For Juli, a huge benefit of carpooling is that she is no longer on a waiting list for a parking permit and doesn’t have to look for alternative parking options, such as paying the daily visitor rate in Lot 76. She also appreciates the time she gets to share with her daughters in the car and on the walk to their building.

Vicki points out that carpooling can be a more reliable form of transportation than people realize. Specific pick-up and drop-off times means you always know what time you’ll be home. With multiple drivers, you know you always have a ride. Fun things can also happen if the group decides on it! On Fridays, the group would call in pizza orders on their way out of Madison and pick up a stack of pizzas in Sun Prairie to take home for their respective dinners.

Could you carpool?

“Try it for a day!” — Vicki Sekel

Here are a few ingredients for carpooling success:

  • You enjoy being flexible and making group decisions.
  • Your work schedule is mostly regular and predictable.
  • You like the prospect of getting to know colleagues outside of work.
  • Traveling with neighbors, coworkers, or family members who live in your area is an option.
  • You can travel with household members, such as family or housemates.
  • You prioritize cutting costs associated with parking, fuel, and vehicle wear and tear.
  • Sustainable modes of transportation are important to you.

On the fence? “Try it for a day!” Vicki recommends. If a trial period doesn’t work out, you can always go back to your old commute.

Other transportation resources for carpoolers

One of the keys to carpooling is having backup options. The UW carpool program provides resources – such as free daily passes and access to the Emergency Ride Home program – to make carpooling easier. The Emergency Ride Home program provides a limited number of free cab rides from campus to one’s home or vehicle in case of emergencies, and members can obtain up to six free parking passes per year for days when they can’t ride with the carpool.

Outside of UW carpool program benefits, Transportation Services provides other resources that can supplement the transportation needs of carpoolers. Here are a few:

  • ZipCar membership for short-term car rentals. There are a number of ZipCars located on campus that can be used to get around during the day.
  • The fare-free campus bus (Route 80, 81, 82, and 84) can help you get around while on campus – for example, to get from the carpool parking spot to a location near your building.
  • Employee bus passes are valid on Madison Metro Transit buses. Metro Transit can help you get between campus and Madison locations in emergencies or on days you can’t ride with the carpool, as well as make trips off-campus throughout the day.
  • If there is a need to supplement the six free daily passes, members of registered and permitted UW carpools may be eligible to apply for a Flex parking permit for days they might need to drive to campus. Learn more about additional parking options for carpool members.


While riding with work colleagues or household members are excellent options, new web-based resources give riders another way to connect with each other. RoundTrip is a free ride-matching service that makes it easy to join an existing carpool or start a new one. Those with a email address may join the private UW-Madison Roundtrip network, as well as access the Greater Madison network for a wider search.


The UW carpool program is one of several Transportation Demand Programs operated by Transportation Services Commuter Solutions. These programs aim to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles on campus to alleviate the demand for parking permits and contribute to the university’s sustainability goals.

To learn more about carpooling or other active/alternative transportation options, send an email to or fill out a commute planning request form.

— by Lauren Hawley