Courtesy CarmaCarma

Carma app offers rebate for carpoolers on Bay Bridge

There is a ridesharing app with a new incentive for commuters crossing the Bay Bridge into The City, and this one encourages the actually sharing of rides.

Carma, a free app that aims to connect people traveling in the same direction for work so they can carpool, is offering drivers who take at least two other Carma users to work a $2.50 rebate, enough to cover the high-occupancy vehicle toll on the Bay Bridge. The limited-time rebate begins today at 7 a.m. and continues through Oct. 31.

Drivers with Carma can charge riders 20 cents per mile.

San Jose-based Carma, owned by a Cork, Ireland, company, came to the Bay Area in 2011 after it won a request for proposals issued by Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma counties. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission awarded about $2 million in 2012 and 2013 to jump-start the pilot program in those three counties.

Carma, like Uber and Lyft, sustains its business by taking a commission, in its case, 15 percent or the per mile rate.

Drivers with Carma won't earn more than the 56 cents per mile current federal reimbursable mileage rate allowed by the IRS. Commission will be capped at this mark.

“Absolutely, we have a legal agreement with everybody,” Paul Steinberg, Carma's vice president of business development, said of deals with counties and clearance from the California Public Utilities Commission. “We're as legal as can be.”

Steinberg said his company, which he said launched a similar toll rebate program in Austin, Texas, believes vehicles going through the carpool lane should not have to pay a toll. The carpool lane on the Bay Bridge was free for HOV until four years ago, when the Bay Area Tolling Authority made the carpool fee during rush hour $2.50.

“No one likes paying tolls,” Steinberg said, “we've learned that big-time.”

Randy Iwasaki, executive director for the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, said the partnership with Carma came about from his agency's desire to “formalize the phenomenon that is called casual carpooling.”

“We're not set up to offer those incentives,” he said. “We don't have the funds to do that.”

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