Emory Report

February 16, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 21

Emory's first vanpool makes commuting a festive ride

It's a wet Thursday evening rush hour in January, and cars along I-20 and the Atlanta connector slowly push headlong into the driving rain. This commuting hell is the stuff of nightmares, but every day four women who live south of Atlanta make the best of it inside a big white van.

Kathleen Chaney, Sylvia Lewis, Di Shelburne and Margie Varnado comprise Emory's first vanpool, an initiative coordinated through the Community Services Office as one of several commuter options offered to University employees. Led by Varnado, the vanpool formed last November because its riders were tired of making the long commute to and from metro Atlanta communities like Morrow and Jackson.

So now they ride in the big white van. Taking turns driving every week, the women meet at drop-off points every morning, leaving their cars close to home. They head up the connector toward campus-taking full advantage of HOV lanes-to their reserved parking spot in front of the nursing school. At 4:30 every afternoon, they hop back in the van and return to their cars.

In a few short months, the foursome has come to find several benefits to the vanpool not necessarily included in the sales pitch. They've become friends and are self-confessed gossipers, filling the van with laughter and chatter rather than the tight fists and grim expressions on the faces of many other Atlanta commuters.

But surely some mornings are quiet, pre-coffee rides? "Depends on who's driving," quipped Lewis, who works in oncology cytogenetics at Emory Hospital.

"Yeah, if I'm driving, Sylvia's screaming all the way," added Chaney, a supervisor in Emory Medical Labs whose "lead foot" was another reason she chose to ride the vanpool.

New acquaintances and friendships aside, there are some very tangible reasons for employees who live a sizable distance from Emory-longer-distance commutes make for more effective vanpools than shorter ones-to look into vanpools. Costs for vanpools vary according to mileage, but they break for Emory's first vanpool like this: each seat in the 15-person van costs $50 a month, but Emory subsidizes $38.25 of this as an incentive for its employees. That leaves $11.75 per month plus the cost of gasoline for each employee, slightly more than the cost of an on-street parking space.

For this fee, employees save that much wear and tear on their cars, and most insurance companies give substantial discounts to policyholders who do not use their cars to drive to work. More riders-the program is open to anyone, though only Emory employees receive the incentives-would mean lower fuel costs, and the financial advantage would be even greater.

In case vanpool or carpool riders need to drive their own car to work, Community Services issues one parking pass per month to them; additional passes are available at a discounted rate. And in emergencies, the program guarantees a ride home, but this has only been necessary eight or nine times in the commuter option program's existence, according to Cheryle Crumley, director of alternative transportation.

If Emory's carpool program is any indication, the number of vanpools could rise sharply in time. There are now 300 University employees carpooling to work, Crumley said: 270 in two-person carpools and 30 in three-person arrangements, resulting in 155 fewer cars on campus. A new rider-matching database is set to go online once data is compiled from recent surveys printed on the back side of 1998 parking applications.

That, combined with a huge influx of potential riders to come via the Clifton Corridor transportation management association Emory is helping form, could spawn many more carpools and vanpools.

"Our biggest challenge has been to build our database so we can more easily and more readily rider-match not only vanpoolers but carpoolers," Crumley said. If employees indicated on their survey that they wanted to receive names of potential carpoolers, Community Services will send them a list. "And then we'll leave it up to the employee whether to contact those people or not," Crumley said.

In the meantime, Emory's merry foursome can be seen every day making the trek from south Atlanta to Emory and back again. "We're just a run-of-the-mill vanpool," said Shelburne. A vanpool, maybe, but right now they're anything but run of the mill.

Crumley is trying to organize a van route for Duluth and already has a volunteer driver. Anyone interested in the vanpool or carpool programs should call 404-727-PARK.

-Michael Terrazas

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