Berkeley Lab

Emeryville Staffer Continues to Carpool, Even When Parking Is Plentiful

By Theresa Duque

From l-r, Michael McKeown, Cynthia Sylvester and Maggie Cunningham. 09/21/16

From l-r, Michael McKeown, Cynthia Sylvester and Maggie Cunningham.

Cynthia Sylvester of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer started carpooling to Berkeley Lab within weeks of becoming an employee in 2006. “I lived in San Ramon at the time, and traffic along the 580 corridor has always been terrible. And back then, the 680 to 24 option over Grizzly Peak wasn’t much better,” she said.

Sylvester continued to carpool, even after her office relocated to Emeryville, where parking happens to be plentiful. But when she and her husband moved to Hayward, her closest Park-and-Ride was now about 8 miles west of where she used to meet other Lab employees who shared the same commute. She assumed that she’d never be able to carpool with them again, but to her surprise, the group voted to pick her up in Castro Valley on their way to the Lab.

Her carpool partners have changed over the years, and their original meeting location has moved to the Pleasanton Park-and-Ride. Today, Sylvester continues to carpool almost every day, and even though she doesn’t have the luxury of leaving whenever she wants, it’s a small sacrifice considering what she’s gained over the years. “Carpooling helps me schedule my time. The afternoon ‘Gotta finish this before the carpool’ gives my afternoons a nice boost of energy. Saving on gas and wear-and-tear are nice, but nothing compares to relaxing rather than driving,” she added.

In this edition of the Commuter Chronicles, Sylvester talks about her carpool commute from Hayward to Emeryville, how she met her carpool partners, and the benefits of carpooling, especially with three or more people.

Q: How long is your carpool commute each way?

Door to door, it’s 40 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the afternoon.

My other carpool partners have a longer commute because they come from a farther distance. Maggie Cunningham from Livermore and Michael McKeown from Pleasanton meet at the Pleasanton Park-and-Ride, and then pick me up at the Castro Valley Park-and-Ride.

Q: How did you meet your carpool partners?

I met my first carpool partner at a division gathering for new employees. After my office moved to Emeryville and hers to Potter Street, we continued our carpool. Then, I heard someone talking in the hallway about her two-person carpool, so we merged the carpools since we were coming from similar locations.

My carpool partners have changed over time as people retired or changed their work schedules. At one point, our carpool had riders from Potter Street, OCFO, and JBEI (the Joint BioEnergy Institute). It worked well and only added about five minutes to the commute. We find new members by word-of-mouth, posting fliers outside our cubicles, using Zimride and, and talking with new employees. We’ve also had members who worked in the same Emeryville buildings as we do but don’t work at the Lab.

Q: How has carpooling made your life better?

We drive for a week at a time on a rotating basis. I’m much more relaxed on the weeks I don’t drive, and my husband plans our evenings accordingly.

I love socializing with my carpool partners. During our commute, I can learn about gardening, home repairs, automotive repairs, shopping for bargains, community resources, and events. I also love to hear about people’s family lives and vacations, and what happened at someone’s birthday party or wedding. We also share work-related information that has helped me expand my understanding of the entire OCFO organization outside my group.

We currently have three members, and we’re happy to have more riders from Potter Street, JBEI, or any buildings along Hollis between Ashby and Powell. The more people you have to rideshare, the more money you save and the less often you have to drive!

Q: How often do you carpool to the Lab?

We try to carpool every day. Depending on how many members we have, there are days when it just doesn’t work out.

We currently have three people in our Pleasanton–Castro Valley–Emeryville carpool, but when we had five, the carpool ran almost every day.

From my experience, I’ve learned that if you want to carpool most days of the week, it’s best to have a roster of 3-5 riders. That way, if someone is sick or needs to telecommute, the remaining 2-4 people can still carpool.

Q: What challenges did you run into when you first started to carpool? How did you resolve them?

When I first started to carpool, scheduling was a challenge. Today, we schedule our carpooling availability in Google Calendar.

If someone has a work or personal conflict on a given workday, then that person marks his or her unavailability in Google Calendar. If one of us can’t drive during his or her assigned week, then that person trades turns with another driver, and it’s marked in Google Calendar. That is also how we cover vacations.

We also find that keeping the carpool schedule on our Google Calendar allows us to schedule personal appointments around the other members’ availability, thereby maximizing carpool days.

Flexibility and communication are key. My carpool partners and I rarely get invited to an unexpected meeting that runs late because our co-workers are aware of our carpooling schedule.

If I have a work “emergency” that requires me to stay late, I tell my carpool partners to go without me. I keep a list of colleagues who drive along the same freeway route as I do, and I have always been able to find one that could drop me off at the Castro Valley Park-and-Ride.

In all my years of carpooling, I’ve only had one mid-day family emergency. To get home, I hopped onto the Berkeley Lab shuttle to the Ashby BART station, and took a quick cab ride from Castro Valley BART to my car. If that happened today, I’d probably call Uber or Lyft.

Staff can provide input via See the Lab’s Carpool page for information about ridesharing with Lab employees.