April 28 - June 1, 2006
Vol. 36, Issue 8
Back Issues
'Living wage' debate
State of U
Tuition to increase
All aboard! the National LambdaRail
Researchers' treatment reverses Type 1 diabetes
Katherine Shirey wins award
Block scheduling
Great teachers
Uncovered cistern gives clues of early Lawn life
Commuting makes cents
Lowering barriers
Diversity post
Are your lights on?

22nd Annual telethon set for June 3 and 4

Know anyone interested in working at U.Va.?
Lorna Sundberg International Center
Leading the way


Commuting makes cents

By Brevy Cannon

Photos by Dan Addison
Bill Shobe (above, far right) started a vanpool from Richmond.

National Clean Commute Day on May 5 is a time to consider the many advantages of various commuting options. Vanpooling, bicycling, or riding the bus to work are several of the most practical and under-utilized options for U.Va. employees. All these options save you from the expenses and challenges of parking at U.Va.; reduce gas-burning emissions that degrade air quality and contribute to global warming; save money—as much as $6600 per year; and reduce time spent driving to and from work, which is “the most dangerous hour of [people’s] lives” according to Kathleen Hall, founder of the Stress Institute in Atlanta.

Ride the Bus
Ruby Curnish was one of the many U.Va. employees that decided to try out commuting on the Charlottesville city buses during the month-long trial program last October that allowed employees to ride for free. Following on the success of that trial, which saw 10,000 new rides, U.Va. is repeating the trial this month (and this coming October) and Curnish has been riding the bus as much as she can, at least two days a week.

She lives only two miles from Grounds and she has a reserved parking spot near her office (after seven years on the parking pass waiting list), so driving to work is pretty convenient for her. But as the manager of Health System Leasing and Parking Operations, she oversees the issuing of parking passes, so she is acutely aware of the parking shortage at U.Va. The Health System has about 8100 employees, but only about 3100 parking spaces, she noted.

But that’s not the main reason she has started taking the bus to work. The 15-minute ride each way gives her a chance to read a book, to relax and enjoy seeing “flowers and trees blooming,” and to get her “thoughts in order and decompress.” When asked if she would like to change anything about the bus ride, she noted that she doesn’t have to worry about driving, the route is quick and direct, and the drivers are “so pleasant and respectful” that she could think of “nothing to improve.”

The recent increase in gas prices has spurred Curnish to consider how much she might save by riding the bus even if she has to pay the standard fare of 75 cents per one-way trip or a 40-ride passbook for $21, which is about a month worth of rides.

Bess Sadler bikes to Alderman Library from Ridge St. every day.

Ride a Bicycle
Bess Sadler takes the city bus when the weather is particularly discouraging, but otherwise she rides her bicycle from her house on Ridge Street to her office at Alderman Library. “I speed past all the cars in traffic every morning and evening,” she explained, noting that when someone offers to do her a “favor” and drive her to or from work, it ends up taking much longer. Biking to work has also allowed Sadler and her husband to avoid buying a second vehicle. So, for Bess, the monetary benefits go well beyond never having to stop at a gas station.

When hot weather makes riding her bicycle a sweaty affair, she leaves a little earlier in the morning, rides to the gym and takes a shower and changes, getting her daily exercise in the process. This summer she hopes to get even more exercise by taking a refreshing swim every morning at the gym. 

Those who must commute the furthest have the most to gain from transit options, as illustrated by a group that vanpools from Richmond to Charlottesville. Bill Shobe and Chris Gist both hated the “grueling” 70-mile drive (each way) from Richmond, so they both investigated carpooling options, and from there, discovered vanpooling. Now, during the three hour commute, they get to “zone out, sleep, talk or do work,” Gist said. As a result, Shobe says, he is much more relaxed when he gets home at the end of the day, which makes “fitting back into the chaos of a house with children much easier.”

Shobe started the vanpool in summer 2005 with help from Rideshare, which acts as a liaison to help set up a lease for a van. Shobe, a research director for the Weldon Cooper Center, is personally responsible for the $1700 monthly payment of the lease, which covers the cost of maintenance, license, and insurance and for a brand new 15-passenger van with an allowance of 35,000 miles per year. (The van is replaced with a brand new one every two years). The vanpool riders split that cost plus the cost of gas (around $500 per month recently), which has worked out to between $190 and $230 per person for the eight to ten members of the vanpool. A couple of part time riders pay $15 per round trip and $10 for one way.  

That works out to be a savings of roughly $550 per month ($6600 per year) compared to the cost of driving oneself every day. Though gas costs garner lots of attention because you see them clearly every time you fill up, the biggest costs of driving a vehicle are insurance, depreciation, maintenance and other “hidden” costs. The Federal Highway Administration's definitive 1998 report on “Cost of Owning and Operating a Vehicle” found that the average American’s cost for vehicle repairs, registration, maintenance, and taxes was 13 cents per mile, while financing, insurance and depreciation cost 31 cents a mile, for a total of 44 cents per mile. Using that estimate for the hidden costs of driving, along with an estimate of gas costing $2.91 per gallon (the U.S. average for self-serve regular during March according to a federal report issued April 24), driving from Richmond five days a week (35,000 miles per year) in a car that gets 25 miles per gallon will cost $779 per month or $9347 per year—more than three times the cost of vanpooling.

One of the biggest changes that comes with riding in a vanpool is the lack of flexibility in arrival and departure times. The van departs from the I-64 and Parham Road interchange, on the west side of Richmond, around 6:50 a.m., makes one pick up stop in Goochland, and arrives in Charlottesville around 8 a.m., stopping Downtown and on Grounds. Riding the vanpool “requires a certain willingness to bend your schedule, bend your habits,” Shobe explained. “Those who prosper with compromises and don’t feel put out are the ones who thrive.”

But Rideshare and the University do make it easier to deal with times when one can’t meet the schedule. Parking and Transportation offers a free "occasional parker" pass for the Emmet/Ivy parking garage for when vanpool members need to drive themselves.

And Rideshare offers the Guaranteed Ride Home program for those who use alternative transportation to commute at least two days a week (including riding with your spouse, vanpool, public transit, walking or biking). The program pays for a rental car, delivered to your door in Charlottesville and dropped off in Richmond, when unexpected circumstances arise such as being asked to work unscheduled overtime.

Noting that the vanpool members often spend more time with each other in a day than with their families, Gist speculated that many vanpools fail simply because the members get on each other’s nerves by failing to extend common courtesies like arriving on time to your pick-ups and letting others know when you can’t make it. “The key to the success of this vanpool has been a heightened awareness of being respectful of others,” Gist said. All decisions of the vanpool, such as route or time changes are made by consensus and “even a small adjustment requires a lot of conversation because everybody has to be happy with the result,” explained Shobe.

But this “strictly cooperative” approach has created a tight knit group of riders. They recently went out to dinner together, along with spouses and even some children, about which everyone had heard so much. In this group, “when someone leaves the vanpool it feels like a member of the family leaves,” Shobe said. Soon after that statement he had to cut the interview short to make it to his 5 p.m. pick-up, “because we really don’t want to be late.”


© Copyright 2006 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

UVa Home Page UVa Events Calendar Top News UVa Home Page