Berkeley Lab

Carpool or Vanpool? Staffer from Petaluma Manages to Do Both

By Theresa Duque

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Marty White is what some might call an “early adopter” when it comes to ridesharing. She first started vanpooling in 1974, shortly after she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, Calif., and started her first job out of school — as a research chemist for the San Dimas office of Occidental Petroleum.

Today, White is the Division Safety Coordinator for the Lab’s Physics and Nuclear Science divisions and lives in Petaluma. Throughout her 16 years of working at the Lab she has always commuted from the North Bay but hasn’t always been able to rideshare. Despite a grueling two-hour plus, 80-mile roundtrip commute, White often drove alone instead of carpooling so she could leave at a moment’s notice in case her family needed her help. “I wanted to make sure I could be there for my daughter after school or anytime she needed me while she was growing up,” she said.

White’s ridesharing availability opened up four years ago, after her daughter moved to San Diego to attend graduate school. She now vanpools three to four times a week with four other riders who live nearby and work in the Berkeley area. She carpools once a week with a friend who also lives in the North Bay and works at the Lab.

In this edition of the Commuter Chronicles, White talks about how she found a way to fit a day of carpooling into her busy schedule when her daughter was in college, and the benefits of vanpooling for people with long commutes.

Q: What’s your morning commute from Petaluma to Berkeley like when you vanpool?

We pick up people from a Park-and-Ride lot in Petaluma at 6:30 a.m., then we drive to a Novato Park-and-Ride to pick up another one of our regular riders. We usually arrive in Berkeley at 7:30 a.m., and I get to my office around 7:40. Vanpools can use the HOV lane, so that gets us here faster. Evenings might take a little longer, but just a few minutes more. When I’m not driving the van, I like to catch up on my sleep.

Q: When and why did you start to carpool? Why did you add vanpooling to the mix?

When my daughter started college in San Francisco in 2007, I began carpooling once a week with a friend who also works at the Lab, so it’s very convenient. Even though my daughter was older, I wasn’t able to carpool more than once a week because my friend’s children were young and she needed the flexibility most days of the week to take care of her family in the evening.

Then when my daughter moved to San Diego to attend graduate school a few years ago, I realized I could rideshare more often, but my carpool partner still could not. So I started vanpooling about three to four days a week in addition to carpooling once a week.

Q: What do you like about vanpooling?

I can nap when I’m not driving! I’ve also made new friends throughout the years.

When I was commuting alone and carpooling just once a week, I was filling my tank six times a month. Now that I carpool and vanpool, I spend only $20 a month to fill my own car. Most vanpools can cross bridges toll-free, so that saves me another $5 a day. I’m also saving my sanity and the cost of wear and tear on my car.

Ridesharing — whether it’s carpooling or vanpooling — also makes me feel good because I feel like I’m helping the environment by having less cars on the road.

Q: How does vanpooling work?

We have an organizer who pays vRide the monthly cost of renting the van. There are five people in our vanpool, including me, and each of us pays the organizer $235 a month. That covers the cost of gas, vRide’s insurance for the van, and riding with the vanpool five days a week for the entire month.

If you’re a vanpool rider, you don’t have to take turns driving unless you want to. I drive the van in the morning three times a week, so when I get to the Lab, I park the vRide van on the Lab’s main site with my yellow hangtag displayed from the rearview mirror, just like I would with my own car. To become a vanpool driver, you don’t need a special driver’s license or certification; you only have to have a regular California driver’s license.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of vanpooling or carpooling but isn’t sure if it will be practical?

You have to be very disciplined with your time because you don’t want to be late and inconvenience your fellow vanpool/carpool riders.

Try out carpooling or vanpooling for a couple of weeks, and see which one works best for your schedule.

If you have kids, carpooling once a week with one other person gives you more flexibility than vanpooling with 10 people four days a week. We’ve had riders who tried to vanpool with us for a week or two and discovered it wasn’t the best option for them if they had to leave work early to take care of a sick child at home.

Q: How can someone get back home if they need to work late and can’t make it to their carpool/vanpool on time?

If you usually carpool or vanpool to the Lab but need to work late or go home early due to an emergency, you can get back home for free through the Alameda County Guaranteed Ride Home Program.

Staff can provide input via commute.lbl.gov. See the Lab’s Zimride page for information about ridesharing with Lab employees.