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Van poolers enjoy convenience, community

February 2, 2012 By Greg Bump

Mark Castillo pilots a state van pool van with an even hand.

Castillo, grants manager at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Mathematics, selects a radio station that will have the broadest appeal. He doesn’t have a problem with beverages in the van, though he does encourage his riders to share when feasible.

He admits that he can be a stickler when it comes to one rule.

“If you bring it on the van you have to take it off the van,” Castillo says.

“As long as they don’t leave the trash behind I really don’t care if people eat on the van, and since I’m the one responsible to keep it tidy I make this one simple rule.”

For long-distance commuters, there are many transportation options. Many drive their own vehicles, which can be complicated by traffic or parking availability and expense. Some ride commercial and bus lines. Still others, like Castillo, choose the state Department of Administration’s van pool program for its ease and relatively low cost.

A 2010 survey by Transportation Services showed that 20 percent of UW–Madison employees live between 11 and 25 miles from campus, and nine percent live 26 or more miles away. Six percent of those who responded to the survey said they participate in a car or van pool every day, while 83 percent said they never participate in a car or van pool.

The state has 84 vans located across southern Wisconsin from Milwaukee to Richland Center.

Some communities have multiple vans to choose from, and several vans are looking for additional riders. Those interested in learning more about the vanpools are encouraged to contact a local van coordinator.

Full-time rider fares are based on the number of riders and mileage, and the fees are deducted pre-tax for state employees.

For some, the rigid schedule of sharing transportation with a vanload of others can be a deterrent to vanpooling. But Dori Klapper says having to get up extra early to catch the van that takes her to campus is worth it.

Klapper, a payroll and benefits specialist at the Division of Student Life who lives in Beaver Dam, roughly 40 miles northeast of Madison, sets her alarm for 4:30 a.m. so she can leave home in time to arrive in Columbus at 5:15 a.m. to catch the van pool. She arrives at Bascom Hill between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m.

When her work day ends at 3:15 p.m. Klapper reverses course, meeting up with her vanpool at 3:35 p.m., reaching Columbus at about 4:30 or 4:45 p.m., and getting home at about 5 p.m.

Klapper says the early mornings don’t bother her, particularly when she considers her cost to vanpool to campus averages just $5 a day, far cheaper than driving to Madison and paying for a parking spot that might be blocks from her workplace. She also likes being able to sit back and let someone else do the driving.

“You can ride and read or chat and relax,” Klapper says. “I have to say I do miss my car at times as you just do not have the freedom anymore to come and go. But a person does adjust.”

Castillo is a veteran of three different van pools and has been taking part in the program as a rider, coordinator or driver for nearly 19 years.

He first got involved in van pool when he lived in Watertown, then led a vanpool effort when he moved to Sun Prairie. Now that he lives in Janesville, Castillo drives a van to campus.

Castillo says the van pool has been a good way to get to know colleagues. People get along well, he says, but he does mention that a measure of tolerance is helpful.

“I would say if someone is thinking about the van pool option, but know themselves to be less patient with other people’s shortcomings, then maybe it’s not for you,” Castillo says.

“Some riders like to chat, while others drown out everything with their headphones. Still others will try to get some work done during their commute,” Castillo says. “All in all it can build a sense of community while getting where you need to go.”