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December 17, 2001

Carpoolers, vanpoolers save money, enjoy camaraderie

By Louise Donahue

Commuting to work can be a solitary experience, but not for those who take carpools or vanpools. In fact, camaraderie--and a big break on parking costs--are often cited as key benefits for those who share the ride at UCSC.

Ron Hart, heavy-duty technician for TAPS/Fleet Services, checks out a commuter van. Maintenance of the vehicles is included in vanpoolers' monthly fee. Photo: Louise Donahue
This is the second of two parts. Last week's story focused on bicycling and riding the bus.
"We had a party. We all went out to dinner together," said vanpooler Jenny Anderson, a lecturer in environmental studies and program development person for that department. Anderson lives between Santa Cruz and Felton, and takes the Boulder Creek vanpool. "If you have any question you want answered or any problem you want solved, take it to the van," she joked of her group of riders.

Vanpools have grown steadily in popularity at UCSC, with 11 now running and a waiting list of potential rides. The largest number of vanpools goes to Watsonville, according to Candice Ward, who handles the program at UCSC's Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS).

"I love it. I look forward to it," said Susan Canora of Watsonville. Canora, coordinator for the provost and college administrative officer for Stevenson College, catches the van across the street from her house and gets a 25 percent discount for serving as a backup driver (the regular driver rides for free). As part of her $19.50 per month fee, she also receives a packet of 50 scratch-off parking passes to use whenever she drives her own car. "You can't beat it financially," she said, compared with the cost of driving and parking. "I can go two weeks on a tank of gas. I'm saving $1,200 a year on gas. I wonder how I drove to work all those years." Repairs and car washes are included in the monthly fee.

Canora concedes that there is some loss of flexibility. "If you're not there on time, the van leaves, no matter what." On the other hand, vanpoolers receive an emergency taxi voucher for a free ride home in case of emergency. "It's nice to know you're not stuck here because you take a vanpool," she said, adding that she hasn't had to use the taxi option.

Anderson said the strict schedule is a plus for her vanpoolers, who would otherwise tend to work long hours. "The good thing is, you have to leave at five o'clock."

While Anderson encourages others to give vanpooling a try, she has observed that it isn't for everyone, and that those with children at home often find it unworkable. "It doesn't allow much flexibility for morning crises."

Vanpool coordinator Ward gets frequent requests for vanpools, and tells those interested to give her a list of others who commute from the same area and work a similar schedule. Ward then matches riders up and recruits volunteer drivers as new vehicles become available. TAPS applies annually through the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District for vanpool grants, and has just received funding for a new Scotts Valley-Felton vanpool, which will begin operation in July 2002.

Another alternative that saves drivers money is the carpool. Beginning this fall, half-price parking for carpoolers with A or B permits has been extended to students with C permits.

Betsy Wootten said she had never considered carpooling before being approached about a year ago by Corinne Taylor Cyngiser, who had no car at the time. Both work at Kresge--Wootten as supervisor of faculty services and Cyngiser as a department assistant in women's studies--making the match convenient. Wootten, who lives in Felton, picks Cyngiser up at the bus stop there. Cyngiser takes a bus from Ben Lomond to the Felton bus stop.

"I'm looking at it more for cost-saving and she's looking at it more for the environmental impact," said Wootten, who benefits from using a carpool permit.

Cyngiser describes the arrangement as a good balance of convenience, cost and environmental awareness. Both enjoy the chance to talk during the drive, and Cyngiser urges others to try carpooling. "It's really easy. All you've got to do is find one other person who lives in your area."

UCSC's long-distance carpoolers have plenty of time for conversation. Colleagues Mary Beth Pudup and Nancy Stoller in community studies have a carpool relationship that has lasted longer than many marriages. For more than 10 years, the two San Franciscans have coordinated teaching schedules as much as possible, usually driving to work three days a week. "It's great for brainstorming," said Pudup, whose husband teaches at Berkeley. "It's the times that I don't carpool that I don't like."

Stoller, a professor of community studies, and Pudup, an associate professor, are far from the only UCSC commuters making their way to work from the Bay Area. David Wellman, a professor in community studies, and Herman Gray, professor of sociology, have also carpooled for years from the Bay Area. Wellman, who lives in Richmond, and Gray, who lives in Oakland, alternate driving and stay late or come early to accommodate each other's schedules. "It takes flexibility and commitment, but mostly it makes life a lot easier. We call it the seminar on wheels. We've become really close friends as a result of the commute." By using the carpool lane, Wellman estimates the two save about half an hour on the road.

The Bay Area commuters have some suggestions for making things easier for others in their situation.

"I would really like TAPS to assist the longer-distance commuters--especially faculty and graduate students from the Bay Area--by helping us get in touch with each other. The opportunity to sign up on a list of potential UCSC-San Francisco Bay Area commuters each quarter via an advertised web site would be an enormous help, especially if folks had the opportunity to list their commuting days and their general location," Stoller said.

TAPS Director Wes Scott suggested Bay Area commuters may be able to arrange a match through the Commute Solutions web site and noted that there is currently room on the vanpool that operates between Los Gatos and the campus.

Lisa Rofel, an associate professor of anthropology, is organizing a system of ride coordination, which could eventually include a vanpool group. Those interested should e-mail information on their home area and travel times.

Wellman, who has been on various search committees, said he thought efforts to make such commutes easier could improve recruitment at UCSC. "If we're going to recruit faculty of color and women, we're going to have to be open to the possibility of them living in the Bay Area."

He suggested a bus that leaves at a regular time and goes to the BART station in Fremont and the Caltrain station in San Jose. "A lot of people could work with that," Wellman said.

"Since there aren't sufficient funds available for the campus to operate an 'over-the-hill' transit service," Scott said, "persons desiring transit service between the Bay Area and Santa Cruz should look into using the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District Highway 17 Express. Amtrak also offers an over-the-hill service to the Amtrak Station."

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