Meera Pal, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - As parents around the D.C. region get ready for a new school year, a regional group is trying to make school commuting a little easier.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' carpool program is launching a free online serivce called SchoolPool that's designed to connect parents from the same school community.
"The SchoolPool program is designed to help alleviate traffic congestion in and around K through 12 schools in the Metropolitan Washington region," says Nicholas Ramfos, director of the council's Commuter Connections program. "And the whole goal is to promote carpool lanes, bicycling and walking to school-age children."
In addition to reducing congestion, the program is also intended to help parents streamline their commuting hours, he says.
"So if there is a carpooling service that is available that they can take advantage of with other families in their neighborhood that will help in terms of quality of life," Ramfos says.
The system is available for schools throughout the D.C. region and in Baltimore, he says.
So far the program has registered a dozen schools, mostly in Frederick, Calvert and Charles counties in Maryland.
Ramfos says most are private schools, which are not served by a regular bus network or shuttles.
Schools must contact Commuter Connections, which then establishes a school-specific portal where parents can register for the SchoolPool program, Ramfos says. Registrants are then validated by a school administrator before they become part of the system and their information is available to other parents. Children's names are not posted online.
The SchoolPool program has been a success in the Charlottesville, Va. area, where it launched in 2003, says Lisa Horanyi, program manager for the area's Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
"It's mostly the private schools who take advantage of the program," she says. "Even if you have a bus service it's a way for parents to connect with other parents in the same neighborhood. It's a way to get a relationship with another parent who has a child at your school."
SchoolPool programs also operate in other parts of the country, including in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mercer County in New Jersey and South Florida.
Ramfos says the goal is to expand to more schools in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.
Schools interested in participating in the SchoolPool program can contact Commuter Connections at 1-800-745-RIDE.
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