[Published: June 20, 2022]

Cathy Ward starts her 75-mile commute from Manteca to Palo Alto two hours shy of sunrise. If she drove alone, her commute could cost $700 per month in fuel alone, thanks to today’s high gas prices. Fortunately, Cathy, a patient administrative specialist with Stanford Health Care, takes advantage of Stanford Transportation’s vanpool program. While riders in Cathy’s vanpool share the cost of gas and tolls, the cost of the Ford Transit van is 100% covered by subsidies from Stanford Transportation and Dibs, a program of the San Joaquin Council of Governments. Free insurance and maintenance on the vehicle are included. 


How Do I Do That - GIF

How do I qualify?

A commuter vanpool is a group of four or more eligible employees (including those with hybrid schedules) who commute regularly to and from work in a passenger vehicle that seats at least seven people. Two eligible employees who commute only part-time count as one full-time commuter. Cathy’s group, one of Stanford’s longer running vanpools, includes five full-timers and one part-time employee, including one non-Stanford member. 


After leaving Manteca at 3:35 a.m., the Ford Transit stops 13.8 miles away in Tracy at 4 a.m. where it picks up additional passengers. (The van can seat eight.) After Cathy gets dropped off, she catches a quick nap before starting her 6 a.m. shift – a necessity to be at her sharpest, especially after waking up at 2:30 a.m. Her door- to-door morning commute takes an hour and fifteen minutes.


Welcome to Super Commuting

Any worker who travels 90 minutes or more one way is considered a super commuter. Six of Stanford’s 15 vanpools currently make the daily trek from the Central Valley. Simply put, the vanpooling program affords some employees who live great distances the opportunity to work at Stanford. For others, the option makes their commute much less taxing.


Valuable Benefits – Saving time and money

Cathy estimates her vanpool, which had consistently high ridership throughout COVID, spends $75-80 a day on gas. Splitting the cost of gas six ways offers significant savings. This group, who alternates between four drivers, agreed to give drivers an additional $4 on any day they drive as an incentive for the added responsibility. Stanford vanpools also enjoy reduced bridge tolls and express-lane access with FasTrak. Other benefits include reduced wear and tear on personal vehicles, and reduced personal auto insurance premiums. In addition, vanpool parking is free on campus.


Less Chatting, More Sleep

Ironically, Cathy is not a chatty Cathy. Because she and her fellow riders work the early shift, “we get into the car, say our good  mornings, and then go to sleep,” she said. The radio is usually silent, save the KCBS AM all news station to monitor accidents on the roadways. On the drive home, folks are so exhausted the passengers are asleep by the time they hit the Dumbarton Bridge. Despite the extra z’s, the group has become close. “We’ve been driving together since 2017 so we really have gotten to know each other well,” said Cathy.


Being Vanpool Coordinator Takes Work

After her vanpool coordinator retired four years ago, Cathy agreed to take over. “I didn’t realize how much work it would be,” she said with a laugh. In addition to scheduling the weekly passengers and drivers, Cathy is in charge of bookkeeping and coordinating vehicle maintenance with Commute with Enterprise. She even goes the extra mile by stocking a small bucket of driver-friendly treats in the center console. Her go-to items? Chewing gum and hard candies such as peppermints and Lifesavers that take a long time to finish so drivers can stay alert during the long drive.


Would Definitely Recommend Vanpooling

Due to the vanpool members’ varying work schedules, Cathy often has downtime once she gets dropped off in the morning and again after finishing her shift. The trade off is worth it, she said. Even when she drove a shorter distance to Fremont where she left her car at the Ardenwood Park and Ride and too a bus to campus, “it was a lot of  rolling down the windows and blasting music to stay awake. Driving is hard on a body –  let alone 150+ miles round trip, five days a week in Bay Area traffic. It’s a relief to share duties, and helps safeguard against accidents and falling asleep at the wheel,” said Cathy.


On the Road Again

Cathy’s shift ends at 2:30 p.m. If she is the day’s driver, she may have to quickly drive to a different location on or off campus depending on who gets off when, then backtrack back to the Lane Surgery to pick up her two colleagues who get off later than she does. Waiting around at her office for her colleagues’ shift to end and then picking up the others isn’t an option. Ten minutes during peak commute time can stretch into thirty – and with such a long drive ahead of them (two hours plus), every minute is precious. Once the last passenger is picked up, the vanpool is on the road by 3:15 p.m. After riders are dropped at the Tracy and Manteca meeting spots, Cathy refills the gas tank. She doesn’t walk in the door until 5:30 – a fourteen hour day, including three plus hours in the car.

“Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do,” said Cathy of her super commute. “But the vanpool program definitely makes life easier.”


Considering joining a vanpool? 

  • To see if there are any vanpools in the works in your area, consult our carpool and vanpool listings page. Select “Vanpools” -> “Starting Up.”
  • Visit our current vanpool page to learn where Stanford’s 15 vanpools come from. 
  • Plug your numbers into the Commute Cost and Carbon Emissions Calculator to determine your money and carbon emissions savings.
  • Ride most vanpools on a full-time, hybrid schedule or occasional basis – whichever fits your schedule. 
  • Sign up for a one-on-one commute consultation. 
  • Have an interested non-Stanford member? Vanpools are allowed to have non-Stanford members; they just don't count toward their eligibility for the Stanford subsidy.

If you’d like to participate in a one-on-one virtual commute consultation and explore your sustainable commute options, please contact us at commuteclub@stanford.edu Have a fun transportation-related story? Reach out to Stanford Transportation’s Communications Manager Kim Ratcliff at kimr13@stanford.edu.