If you drive, they’ll link you

So… Barrie’s attractive house prices lured you to the country’s fastest growing community. And then the reality of burning through the family car has hit cold, stone, sober as you roll down the pavement five days a week for the gruelling Barrie to Toronto corridor commute.

You’ll notice the same cars in the same lanes at the same times morning after morning. You’ve figured out that if you leave at 5:30 am, you’ll arrive in downtown Toronto for 7 am but if you leave Barrie at 5:45, it’ll take half an hour longer.

You notice that your move to “the country” is creating stress lines around your face, that your attitude behind the wheel has become so aggressive that you’re angry in the grocery store parking lot. You notice that your day, more than anything else, is measured in minutes on the road.

And your cost to commute? Not counting car payments, it sits around $5,000 a year.

Now, the purpose of this column isn’t to send people back to the Greater Toronto Area. It’s to share the reason and the methods behind Commuter Link Carpool Ltd., a business based in Barrie but serving the GTA. Now in its second year, Commuter Link is devoted to finding commuters and linking them by starting location, destination, starting and finishing times, smoking preference, contract versus full time etc.

“Our theory is that people would like to save… money, wear and tear on their cars, frayed nerves, and environmental resources,” says Commuter Link’s Lil Wilkinson, who with partner Brian Dunnett, started the company in 1997.

Both Lil and Brian have professional real estate backgrounds, and the development of Commuter Link Carpool Ltd stemmed from the numbers of housing sales that involved Toronto area commuters. They take registrations over the phone or by fax and there is no cost until a link is made, pulling together passengers, alternate drivers etc. Lil couldn’t give me a financial figure for the cost of a link because they offer discounts for students, temporary work, contract work etc. “A person who’s doing alternate driving will save their registration fee in four to six weeks,” said Lil.

Any Commuter Link customer can expect to save their property taxes in a year of shared commuting, if they’re an alternate driver.

Lil says they have many kinds of commuters on their database. Some want to pay for a ride, but don’t want to drive. Others want to share driving, week about, and the costs associated with that. Some want to continue to control their personal transportation and do all the driving, providing transportation (and reaping cash benefits) for others.

From their database, Lil and Brian link people to each other, charging for their services at that time.

Their office has sectored maps of the GTA, with drop off and pick up points, measured distances, disclaimer fees and information packages.

Lil says one of their biggest hurdles has been provincial government legislation which prohibits them from advertising.

“We need to reach the people in cars on Highway 400. A logical way to do that is by signage along the highway at strategic ppoints. Because we’re not a non-profit corporation, we can’t access highway advertising,” she says. It’s frustrating for Lil because she sees the immediate environmental benefits, to say nothing of traffic congestion and quality of life. Since there is no non profit competition out there, it seems counter productive to prohibit getting the message out.

The other way to reach people is when they buy their homes and settle in Barrie, and that’s where the Commuter Link real estate background should come in handy. Lil and Brian try to promote their service wherever possible. Lil says they’re particularly in need of people who want to drive and have passengers.

When they first launched the business, Lil had been downsized from a finance company position, and applied to the federal government’s Self Employment Assistance Program, from which to launch their company. The program provided her with valuable start-up support and she’s now in year two on her own with the company.

If you commute, or you live with someone who does, or work with someone who lives with someone who does… you get the picture, Commuter Link might provide an end to some road rage, plus put extra dollars in a pocket. Barrie # 721-5546. Toll free: 1-888-387-5465 (LINK).