FORT LEE, N.J — Jesus Prieto stood by the bus station on the Fort Lee side of the George Washington Bridge one spring morning, waiting for the shuttle to take him into Manhattan.
Suddenly, a sedan pulled up in front of him and the driver inside asked him if he would like a free ride.
"I was a little freaked out about getting into someone's car who I didn't know," said Prieto, who lives in Cliffside Park.
The driver explained to Prieto that he would receive a reduced carpool fee at the toll, from the regular $12.50 for E-Z Pass subscribers during peak hours down to $6, if he had at least three people in his car.
"I definitely had to look him up and down and make sure he was acting right, but I ended up accepting," said Prieto, who now belongs to a large group of trusting George Washington Bridge commuters who forgo the $2 shuttle fee by carpooling with thrifty motorists.
"The money you save here you can use at the subway," said Jennifer Anderson, a New York City nurse who lives in Fort Lee.
Anderson says she carpools with strangers at least four times a week, but cautions women to use their judgement before getting into a vehicle.
"I never get in a car with two men," she told Daily Voice. "I like to make sure there are other women in the car and I always check to make sure my cellphone is fully charged."
It's hard to say just how many rides are offered each day, but during work hours commuters rarely have to stand around for more than 10 minutes before a driver pulls up offering a carpool.
The arrangement "is not illegal, per se, but it presents road hazards, liabilities and dangers," Joseph Pentangelo of the Port Authority Police Department told Daily Voice. "It is not enforced by the PAPD as a practice -- unless other elements are present."
These could involve traffic violations or particular crimes or misdemeanors, he said.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich told Daily Voice he supports a system that saves people money and allows them to get across the bridge in a safe way, but stressed the word "safe."
"My only concern is without a proper registration program for drivers, the wrong person could pick somebody up," he said, adding that there have been no incidents to date.
That's because, according to Englewood Cliffs property manager Michael Katz, many of the people who offer rides want to be good samaritans.
"We like to save money but we also like the people," said Katz, who has been ferrying passengers across the bridge since 1989. "If you can, it's a nice thing to do."
Long Island native Edgar Monroy said he has even convinced commuters to hop on the back of his motorcycle.
"It's a little nerve wracking but it's exciting too," said Monroy, who works for UPS. "I've never run into any incidents with anybody. I think people just like helping each other."