[Published: May 17, 2022]
Thinking of joining a vanpool? There’s no time like the present. Just ask Stephanie Ashe, director of communications for Stanford Law School. Stephanie drove alone to campus from Half Moon Bay (HMB) for four years before deciding she needed to find a better commute. While responding to a Stanford Transportation survey, Stephanie indicated an interest in vanpooling. The next day she received an email from a fellow Stanford employee… Hey, I heard you’re interested in vanpooling!
The message was from Julia Burrows. Before starting at Stanford last fall, the Portland, Oregon transplant, googled and found this article about the “Brains to Breakers” vanpool. During a subsequent one-on-one Commute Consultation, Julia, undergraduate advising director for the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education, let our sustainable transportation team know she wanted to get ‘the band back together’ as the group had relinquished their van a few months earlier due to Covid ridership limitations.
The rest, as they say, is history. Both women – along with the original members – say vanpooling has not only changed their commute but become an unexpected delight.
The Ins and Outs
One of 15 Stanford vanpools currently running, the HMB vanpool has seven regular riders. With their vanpool lease fully subsidized by Stanford Transportation, they share the cost of gas on the days they travel the 50-mile round trip. Most riders have hybrid schedules, working on-site at least three days a week. The days vary from weekly but the group has no problem averaging 3.5 riders per day. The rental van can seat seven passengers, but six comfortably. All members are approved to drive and take turns. A WhatsApp chat group has become the vanpool lifeline, allowing wiggle room based on everyone’s schedule.
The Five-Minute Rule
As for setting do’s and don’ts, there are few parameters other than “the five-minute rule.” The group typically departs at 7:30 a.m. from their parking lot meeting spot. “If you’re not there by 7:35, then we leave - unless someone messages to let us know, ‘Sorry I’m running late.’ Then of course we wait,” explained Johanna MacDonald, who works in University IT. “Happy to report we’ve never left anyone stranded.”
A Very Cosmopolitan Group
Along with saving money on gas and personal vehicle wear and tear, vanpooling offers time and toll savings thanks to the Bay Area’s expanded express lanes. This group has found yet another perk: camaraderie.
“We’re really lucky. We have a cosmopolitan group,” said Johanna. “We’re all animal people and outdoorsy, ocean lovers who surf, cycle and hike so we have a lot to talk about.”
Sometimes so much so that it’s hard to hear the radio's classical music over the chatter. “It’s a really nice group,” added Stephanie. “Everyone is a Stanford employee so there is a level of professionalism.”
As if lively conversation isn’t enough, there are even treats some mornings, including delicious homemade cinnamon rolls and coffee cake, compliments of master baker Johanna.
The Occasional Adventure
Even accidents can’t rain on this crew’s parade. Not long ago, a line of bright red tail lights snaked along Highway 92 signaling a major crash. With Stanford scientist Gernot Neumayer at the wheel, the commute became an adventure. He steered the Chevy Traverse on an alternate route through Woodside and up scenic Kings Mountain.
“I’d never been that way. It was much better than sitting in backed up traffic alone,” said Julia.
Vanpool Bragging Rights
“I’m always bragging about my fantastic vanpool,” said Stephanie with a laugh.These days each morning when she arrives at work, her Law School colleagues greet her with the same inquiry: “How was the vanpool?” “It’s fun to hear about others’ lives and adventures. We learn from Gernot about his research. Tom works for Alumni Relations and Johanna tells us the latest happenings in IT," said Stephanie. "Joining ‘Brains to Breakers’ has changed my commute.”
Interested in vanpooling?
Coming soon in On the Move newsletter: more vanpooling stories, including a group who commutes from the Central Valley.