A long time ago, before there was an Orgnaization of Petroleum Exporting Countries or gasoline shortages, before gasoline was $1.25 a gallon, way back when rush hour was actually one hour insead of three, there were car pools.

There weren't many of them because it was easy and cheap for anyone with a car to drive to work, find parking and get home before the children had forgotten his or her name. Car pools, back then, were social acommodiations more than a means of transport.

Now, however, car pools are a glamor stock, transformed by the OPEC oil embargo from a grudging camaraderie into a patriotic duty. And the rapid increase in gasoline prices, parking rates and traffic congestion has helped boost the institution to new heights of popularity.

In fact, new transit studies indicate that twice as many people take car pools as ride public transit in the United States. In some areas, the ratio is as high as three to one, the studies indicate.

As final proof of the car pool's popularity, one St. Paul, Minn., firm has decided to run a profitable business in coordinating ride-sharing efforts.

Many firms that have developed their own car pool or van pool networks are finding the systems costly and difficult to manage, according to Clarence Shallbetter, president of the newly formed Ridesharing Inc., a St. Paul Companies Inc. subsidiary.

As a result, a large number of firms will be more than happy to relinquish the car pool headache, along with some cash.

Car pool provide tangible returns for the companies that use them. Shallbetter said. A car pool or van pool service is a low-cost finge benefit that increases employe attendence, lowers costs of maintaining parking lots, enables a firm to draw emplyes from a wider geographic area and can cut employe turnover.

"Increasingly we're seeing employers who are growing more apprehensive about gasoline shortages and impact on their employes' ability to get to work," said Shallbetter.

Mass transit system as a rule are oriented toward feeding the downtown area, and thus often aren't helpful to a company with headquaters. Also in the suburbs, many shopping malls and office centers house several companies whose emplyes could benefit from car pools. But coordination among those companies would be difficult without an outside source of expertise, Shallbetter said. Shallbetter said any city of medium size or bigger should have enough car pool needs to support a profitable consulting service. And although he has no immediate plans to expand out of the Twin Cities, he said the Washington area has substantial pooling potential as well.

Providing car information to government employes would be similar to coordinating riders who work at different stores in a shopping mall, Shallbetter said. However, it might be more difficult to get the approvals needed to hire a cosultant for several agencies than to work with several stores because owners of stores in a shopping mall tend to have more autonomy than department heads in government agencies, he added.

The potential for car pooling for private businesses ing the Washington area, though, would be no different from private sector car pools in any other city.

"I would have to believe that this kind of thing would make a lot of sense," Shallbetter said. Even mass transit systems that feed the business section have gaps in service.

Tapping the demand for pairings of reverse com- muters in Washington is a long way off, at least for Ridesharing Inc. Although car pooling and van pooling already are more popular than mass transit in the Twin Cities, Ridesharing will have a tough time bringing the car pool share of market into the number one position.

The company estimates that two-thirds of all Twin Cities employes ride to work in their won cars by themselves. The car pool idea has gained sharply in popularity, but it still has a long way to go.