Emory Report
April 10, 2006
Volume 58, Number 26


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April 10 , 2006
Crazy for carpooling

susie lackey is research laboratory manager of the endocrine core lab at yerkes national primate research center.

If you are now commuting to work at Emory alone by car, have you ever considered another means? Soon, more than ever, new opportunities and choices will be available for other ways to get to work.

I know what you’re thinking: “It won’t work for me.” Well, now is the time to rethink that position. The challenge is this: How can we each do our part to reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles and thereby improve the environment and our campus?

Carpooling has improved my work/life, and I want to show you how. In doing so, I hope both to give you a glimpse of Emory’s future and to invite you to consider alternative ways to get to work. Get ready, because the train is about to board!

Imagine, if you will, Atlanta roads and highways with less congestion, less road rage and less stress on the average commuter. Imagine also our Emory community with fewer cars, more green space, cleaner air and improved safety as people walk around the campus at all hours of the day or night. Emory, like Atlanta, is moving fast toward this kind of community—where people live, work and play.

Until last fall, I had been commuting to Emory in a car, by myself (mostly), for more than 25 years, driving an hour each way. Though I did carpool with a friend for a couple years in the early ’80s, we ended the carpool when her job location changed. At that time, Emory did not promote alternative transportation, but I did learn from that experience the benefits of reduced gas expense, less stress and a stronger friendship with my friend.
Following this brief exception, during the last two decades of driving alone to work, I have spent a small fortune on gasoline, gone through a few cars, and have seen the traffic in Atlanta increase literally by the day, choking both my time and my energy.

Last fall, I’d had enough. I explored the possibility of vanpooling with a couple of other interested Yerkes employees. We attended a vanpool formation meeting for employees living south of town and were immediately sold on the idea. I decided to join the vanpool so I wouldn’t have to drive at all.

Well, it took longer than expected to get the vanpool up and running, so in the interim, three of us entertained the thought of carpooling. We tested the waters first by each driving for one week.

We were very candid with each other about the process, and I was both nervous and excited: This was a big change in my work/life. It seemed overwhelming, maybe too good to be true. Could we get along with each other? Would we annoy/terrify each other with our driving habits? Would we come to blows over choice of radio stations?

Much to my surprise (as someone who always found reasons—or excuses—for driving alone) I was hooked within the first week. All three of us were happy with the arrangement, and we took our names off the vanpool waiting list and officially registered our carpool. With, I’ll admit, a twinge of sadness, I turned in my Zone 2 hangtag; in its place, our carpool received one hangtag, and we each received a value pass hangtag for parking on days when we must drive alone. My payroll deduction parking stopped immediately, and I was on my way to saving $300 per year.

It’s been six months, and I won’t turn back.

At first, there were a few things to work out. My fellow carpoolers and I had to synchronize our work schedules, of which our supervisors were very supportive and accommodating. The biggest hurdle for me, though, was accepting that I would have to leave work on time each day. Accustomed to working longer hours most days, I didn’t relish this idea, but if I wanted the carpool plan to succeed, it had to be done. “The work,” a wise friend continues to tell me, “will still be here when you return tomorrow.”

The benefits of carpooling far outweigh the negatives. By using HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, we sail past other single-occupancy commuters, witnessing their frustration as they creep and crawl along. We arrive at Yerkes refreshed for the day; we’re less stressed; and sometimes we even hash out problems of the world during our drive.

As a passenger for two out of every three weeks, I sometimes just close my eyes and catch some z’s during the ride—especially on the ride home, so I will be more energized to attend to my family. We have a reserved space in our deck. Through the Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Association and Georgia’s Clean Air Campaign, we receive a monthly $45 gas card, plus bonuses when we “refer” people to carpools and even prizes through random drawings.

Perhaps the best perk is the Guaranteed Ride Home program in case of emergency. Recently two of us had to use this service when our driver had an unexpected responsibility that kept her at work late. Not knowing what kind of “guaranteed ride” to expect, we were thrilled when a luxury sedan arrived to pick us up. We rode home in comfort, style—and at no extra expense to us.

The carpool also works well for me because once a month I have a late afternoon University Senate meeting, and often my carpool buddies agree to adjust their hours and stay late with me. Otherwise I’m forced to use my value pass and drive alone that day (Believe me, I am so spoiled now by my carpool lifestyle, I do not enjoy driving to work alone—the stress returns quickly).

Change is hard for almost everyone. We get comfortable with where we are and resist leaving our comfort zones. Let’s face it: We are spoiled by our cars. But even in our own community, there are many who don’t have cars or don’t even drive. Yet they still manage to get to work every day by some other means. All it takes is the desire to make it work.

At Emory, we have been discussing transportation problems for decades, but until recently the solutions have been more of the “patch and fix” kind. Now, with clearer vision and strategic planning, we are working together to become a destination University and a destination employer. But that transformation can only happen through shared ownership from everyone who wants to share in this vision and work collaboratively to make it happen.

If we don’t pitch in, imagine a future of the status quo for our children and grandchildren: They could be facing longer and longer commutes and more locked-down highways. I don’t want that for my children, and I hope you feel the same. At Emory, we are laying the foundation for many generations to come.

Improving the shuttle system is not a panacea; when it comes to reducing single-occupancy vehicle driving, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why there are many choices to fit different employee lifestyles and needs.

We have an opportunity to be part of a growing movement at Emory to improve work/life balance and our environment. If we don’t get on the train for change, it will leave us behind.

So I challenge every employee at Emory to consider some other means of commuting to work. To those already carpooling, vanpooling, using MARTA, biking or walking, I invite you to “talk it up” within your work areas and at employee gatherings. And finally, I challenge our University leaders to lead by example and also consider other means of getting to work.

I will be long gone from this great University when the major facelifts now being planned are brought to fruition. But I look forward someday to returning to visit my lifelong workplace, knowing that I had a part in shaping and molding the even greater institution it will have become.