Every day for two years, Inga Sullivan drove by herself from her home in Norridgewock to her job in Westbrook.

“It was about an hour and a half for me in the car, alone,” she said. “It was nice some days, but I just thought I could do something different with my time if I could connect with other folks who were doing the same thing.”

So Sullivan registered with GoMaine, the statewide commuter program sponsored by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority. Through its matching service, she found others to share her commute.

“I liked it as a rider because I could do some work or read a book,” she said. “You end up sort of becoming car friends. You end up getting to know each other, and it’s a nice feeling. If you’ve had a bad day and get in the car, someone can lighten the mood a little bit.”

After the driver in her group left the program, Sullivan took over and now does most of the driving herself in her Honda Civic. (She also maintains control of the radio. It’s NPR only on her watch because “it’s not a station that’s going to offend anyone.”) Every morning, she picks up three women in Augusta and drops them off in Portland, then it’s off to her own job. Each rider contributes $10 round-trip toward gas and maintenance on Sullivan’s car.

Sullivan and her “car friends” are taking advantage of a state-funded program that is at least a quarter-century old and still chugging away, even though most Mainers seem to have forgotten about it.

While the program helps only the 10 percent of working Mainers who carpool – at a time when carpooling nationally is undergoing a steep decline – the Mainers who use the matching service are pleased they’ve been able to save money and reduce their carbon footprint. The GoMaine program has also helped many private companies launch customized employee carpool and vanpool programs, some of which have evolved into sophisticated arrangements that help save money and the planet.

UPDATING THE INFORMATION

GoMaine was once well known for operating vans to encourage carpooling. But after the state stopped paying for the vans and outsourced that program in 2012, many people assumed the entire GoMaine program went away. And while some of the information on the website is a couple of years old, today the administrators are working to update it and the ride-matching software, and they plan a marketing blitz in the fall to promote ridership.

When potential carpoolers sign up for the GoMaine program at gomaine.org, the software finds out where they are and where they want to go. It asks them if they smoke and whether they like to listen to the radio in the car.

“The way I describe the program is we’re like eHarmony for carpoolers,” said Rebecca Grover, public relations and legislative associate at the Maine Turnpike Authority, who administers the GoMaine program.

Ride-matching programs are common in metropolitan areas around the country, according to Alan Pisarski, a Virginia transportation consultant who co-authored the 2013 National Report on Commuting Patterns and Trends for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“I can’t honestly say that those things have been a resounding success,” Pisarski said. “They’ll talk about how many people they have matched but then they don’t keep track, so they have no idea if those people are still using it.”

That’s been the case in Maine, where 3,000 people are in the database statewide – less than 1 percent of all commuters – but no one has any idea how many are still actively carpooling. “We match you up, and what happens after that we really don’t know,” Grover said.

But there’s more to the program than matchmaking. Take the Emergency Ride Home benefit, designed to take away one of the most common objections to carpooling – what happens if my child gets sick, there’s a family emergency or I have to work overtime?

If a GoMaine subscriber knows she won’t be able to make her evening pickup, she can get an Enterprise rental car for one day for free. Commuters in the Bar Harbor area have the option of a free taxi. Commuters who use Emergency Ride Home must be regulars – carpooling at least three times a week – and they can’t use the benefit more than eight times a year.

It’s proved to be a powerful incentive. “That’s really the carrot that gets people sometimes,” Grover said.

Valerie Cordwell, a resident of Augusta who commutes to her job in Portland, has a 5-year-old and has used the benefit many times. “There have definitely been times I’ve had to leave the office early and go pick him up,” she said.

PREFERENCE FOR GOING SOLO

In 1980, 19.7 percent of commuters in America carpooled, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. By 2010, that number had dropped to 9.7 percent, and it’s probably lower now.

The decline has been attributed to many economic, social and demographic factors, from the rise of telecommuting to the decline of construction and manufacturing jobs, where employees answered to a whistle and worked with many others on identical schedules.

Modern commuters like having flexible work schedules, and they often multi-task by making stops on their way to and from work, a concept transportation planners call “trip-chaining.” They are also more likely to form “fampools,” which chauffeur family members, than traditional carpools.

More traditional forms of commuting still linger in places like Maine, a rural state where people travel longer distances to get to good jobs. “A lot of the vans go to Augusta, so you have a lot of workers who are on the same schedules and the same hours,” Grover said.

GoMaine vanpools run on routes all over the state. Most travel between Augusta and Portland or Bangor, but there’s also a coastal van that starts in the Brunswick area. Two private companies run vanpools, and several independent vans are run by commuters themselves.

The coastal van got its start after the state got out of the van business. Every day, a dozen commuters travel together in a Ford Econoline van they own from their homes in Brunswick and Topsham to their jobs in Augusta.

Driver Deane VanDusen, who lives in Harspwell and works for Maine DOT, had been carpooling with other GoMainers for about 15 years when the state outsourced the van service. He and some fellow riders did the math, and figured that using a private van company would cost them almost double what they had been paying.

So after consulting with carpooling lawyers, they drew up a detailed operating agreement, bought a used van, and formed their own tiny company: BT Shuttle LLC (the BT for Brunswick-Topsham).

Each rider pays a one-time $200 deposit and an additional $105 a month.

“I do it mostly for cost savings, but there’s also a very strong environmental component to my decision,” VanDusen said. “We all know the world is getting warmer, and if we can keep one car off the road, that’s one thing I can do.”

Maine businesses whose workers have long commutes – Jackson Lab on Mount Desert Island and Idexx in Westbrook to name two – have worked with GoMaine to start their own rideshare programs, and those programs often morph into something grander.

Idexx Parxx, as that company’s program is called, began with the carpoolers teaming up with GoMaine. Now, though, some employees telecommute. Others walk to work, or ride their bike or the bus; employees get subsidies for bus tickets that give them a week’s worth of free rides each month.

A group of Idexx employees commutes from New Hampshire in a 15-passenger van. They maintain the van; Idexx subsidizes it. Last fall, at a presentation at the company’s annual sustainability fair, the group estimated that since they started vanpooling, they have saved enough miles to circle the moon.

Their daily commute takes almost two hours, so Idexx provided the van with a hot spot, enabling employees to work en route. “We’re increasing productivity, we’re making employees happy, and it’s at very little cost to us,” said Devra Holmquist, an administrative assistant at Idexx who works with the program.

Pisarski said that’s exactly the kind of thinking that may keep carpooling relevant going forward. With the advent of new “Uber type of technologies,” he said, commuters may find themselves doing more “on-the-fly” carpooling.

“Instead of you and me and George agreeing that every morning we’re going to meet somehow and go to work,” he said, “you might just click an app and say you need a ride to somewhere and someone else going in that direction might agree to pick you up. You create an instantaneous carpool.”