A year ago, I decide to conduct an experiment and joined a vanpool. For the past two years, I had seen a fleet of vanpool vans sitting in the parking lot at work and had been meaning to ask about joining one. Regrettably, I made the typical excuses for not asking sooner, “What if I have a family emergency”, “They probably don’t have something that fits my schedule”, “What if I don’t like the people”, “Vanpools aren’t cool”.
I finally decided to inquire about a vanpool in my area. After looking at ways to free up some money to payoff my mortgage quicker, I noticed that a large part of my budget was dedicated to gas and car maintenance. Saving on transportation costs seems like a logical place to look for cost savings. I initially researched taking the bus. It seemed to be a good option. The cost to ride the bus is $35 per month and it’d take me about an hour to get to work. Before I purchased a bus pass though, I decided to emailed the vanpool coordinator at work (yes, we have a vanpool coordinator, who knew). She emailed me back that there was a vanpool in my area and that they were looking for riders. She also mentioned that our company offered incentives for taking mass transit and would offset costs up to $225 per month. This would make it virtually free. Say what?!
A Year of Vanpooling
Needless to say, I signed up immediately. I emailed the vanpool POC and a couple of weeks later, started riding the van. There were some small adjustments I had to make to my daily routine. For one, the riders were early risers. I had to catch the van at 6 am. This wasn’t as bad as it seems. I was leaving for work around 6:30. I made the 30 minute adjustment and it worked out fine. The other adjustment I had to make was that they didn’t make a stop for Starbucks coffee. No worries. I just had to wait to pick up a Starbucks coffee at the cafe at work. No biggie.
The benefits vastly outweighed the minor inconveniences of joining the vanpool. Here’s what I discovered:
Since I live in Texas, so gas cost are low compared to the rest of the country. This past year they ranged between $2 and $2.30. For a given week, I’d spend about $75 in gas (about two fill ups) per paycheck driving myself to work. That doesn’t include maintenance. With the company incentive, the vanpool was free. I just had to drive to the meet up spot which was only 3 miles away. I spent about $15 per paycheck. Estimated cost savings in gas alone, about $1,560 for the year.
The vanpool POC was the main driver. On occasion, I’d have to drive the van into work if the other vanpool members were not riding that day. This was rare. I mostly reclined in my seat and enjoyed the ride. I even snuck in some zzz’s from time to time.
Air Conditioning and Heating:
As I mentioned before, I live in Texas. Texas gets extremely hot or cold. There is no in between. I drive a 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee with no air or heating. I know, I know, I should get that fixed. Well, I haven’t okay! Being in a vehicle with the luxury of air and heating was awesome. Heck, we even had heated and cooling seats. On a van! I didn’t even know cooling seats existed.
Build Your Social Network:
This was an unexpected benefit. Having people to talk to on any ride is great. The folks I rode with were good people. We’d have small talk but also talk about politics, food, and after we got familiar with each other, things happening in our personal lives. It really made the time fly by and I made some friends. On top of that, I made connections to people in different parts of the company. Definitely a plus.
Save the Planet:
It’s amazing to see how many miles you put on a vehicle just by driving to work. We put around 11,000 miles on the van this past year. Since we had four riders, we saved our vehicles 33,000 miles in driving costs. In addition, the average vehicle emits around 4.7 metric tons of C02 a year according to the EPA. By that measure, we conservatively reduce our carbon footprint by about 12 metric tons this year by keeping 3 vehicles off the road. I’m not a huge “green” guy, but if I can contribute reducing pollution by using resources more efficiently, I’m all for it!
Reaction from the Fellas at Work
Well, let’s just say that in Texas, joining a van pool is not the conventional thing to do. Everyone in Texas has a truck or other large vehicle that they commute to work in. One day at an offsite, I pulled up in the vanpool van. Yes, it looks exactly like the van in the picture. The expression on my co-workers faces was priceless. Needless to say, they busted my balls pretty hard initially. Some of the responses were priceless:
Fellas: “What the hell, why you driving a van?”, “Really, really?”, “Not cool bro”, “I couldn’t do it, I need my car”.
Me: What’s that you say? A vanpool is not cool? Au contraire!
A funny thing happened though. After I shared the specifics of the program and how much money I was saving, I could see the wheels of change turning in their head. It wasn’t immediate, but a few weeks later, a couple of them started asking me how to join a van pool. A month or so past, and everyone was saying how smart it was to join a van pool and how they were trying to find a vanpool in their area. Ahhh, it’s great to start a revolution. Plus, I’m doing my part to save the planet.
Job Transfer, No Vanpool
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. I transferred jobs a few weeks back. Needless to say, I’m no longer a part of a vanpool. I’m at the corporate office for the next couple of months which is in another part of the city. It’s a smaller office where no vanpools exist. It’s a vanpool “desert”. I now have to drive 44 miles round trip to get to work. My bi-weekly gas cost have increased to $75. The good news is that this is temporary. I will be re-locating to an office that’s about 15 miles from my house in the next couple of months. It’s a larger office with a higher chance of vanpools existing. I’m really missing my vanpool. I miss the convenience and the cost savings.
No Vanpool, Now what?
Great question. I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I’m considering my options:
Option #1 Become Lance Armstrong, Sort of
I have a buddy at the office who cycles to work. He’s big into cycling. He offered to sell me one of his 4 road bikes for $100. He says its worth $600 so not a bad deal on the front end. There is a city trail that gets me to within a mile of the office, which is great because our roads suck. This would be a great way to get my cardio in everyday but it would probably take me about 1 hour to get to work. Another benefit would be that I get to continue to save the planet. Mr. Money Mustache also makes some compelling arguments on biking everywhere. On the down side, my wife will probably start working this year (that’s not the downside) so I may need to rapidly respond if the kids need me.
Option #2 Embrace Public Transportation
As I previously mentions, I considered this option at the start of 2017 before I found the vanpool. Unfortunately, we don’t have public rail in our city but we do have the bus. The bus is affordable and it has heating & air, wifi, and I don’t have to drive. In addition, I’m saving the planet. I have a Park ‘n Ride stop less than two miles from my house, so it’s conveniently close. Again, it’d take about an hour to get to work. On the downside, I don’t get my cardio and I have the issue of rapidly responding if a family emergency occurs.
Option #3 Start My Own Vanpool (or Carpool)
This option has the same pros and cons as the first two options. Once I get to the new office, I’d have to see who lives by me and if they’re up for joining a vanpool (or carpool). I’d also have to sell how great a vanpool is. I’m an engineer, not a marketer. Oh bother! This could take some time to get done. Time and marketing are definitely going in the “downside column” for this option.
Option #4 Be Convention
Be conventional, drive to work, waste money, and get no cardio. I also don’t get to save the planet. On the plus side, I can rapidly respond to any family crisis should one arise.
Decisions, Decisions …
I’m really liking option #1. Seems to have all the benefits I’m looking for, but if I need to get the kids, that’s gonna be a challenge. On the rare occasion that something occurs, I could always ask a buddy at work for a ride if I needed one. I’m definitely not a fan of option #4 since its conventional and I can’t save the planet. But it might be the best way to go in the short term. Perhaps a hybrid solution would work best.
Save Money, Rethink Your Daily Commute
If you’re looking to save some money this year, don’t overlook your daily commute. Vanpooling, carpooling, or your local transit system can save you some significant money. Heck, you might even find out that your company offers incentives for vanpooling or mass transit. Either way, think outside of the box and be unconventional. Don’t be scared. Check it out. As an added benefit, you’ll be doing your part to save the planet. Think about it.