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by Nancy Humphrey | Thursday, Jul. 12, 2012, 9:09 AM
Some days the Vanderbilt staff members being driven in a 15-passenger van from Murfreesboro by fellow employee Sabrina Morris are chatty, talking about upcoming events in their community. Other days, they’re tired and prefer to close their eyes and listen to music through their headphones.
The only guarantee about the five-day-a-week trip to and from Vanderbilt is the low commuting cost each month (they share the gas costs), and as long as 50 percent or more of the riders are Vanderbilt employees, there’s no need to purchase a parking sticker.
Morris, a Human Resources employee, has been driving the Murfreesboro group for about three years. The ride begins and ends in the parking lot of Old Time Pottery in Murfreesboro. They are one of eight Vanderbilt-area vanpools operated by a partnership between Vanderbilt and the regional TMA (Transportation Management Association) Vanstar program.
About 80 Vanderbilt employees currently participate, but there is the potential to enroll 750 more people and 50 more vanpools, said Gary Streaty, director of Medical Center Parking and Transportation Services.
Employees who live in the same area and work the same shifts at Vanderbilt and nearby businesses are eligible to participate in the Vanstar program. The average daily commute is about 70 miles, roundtrip. An online matching program, www.vanstar.com, is available through TMA to match employees living in a particular area with a vanpool. One employee volunteers to be the principal driver and another two are designated back-up drivers.
Drivers must complete an insurance check and complete training for driving the vehicle.
Riders share the cost for gas and the van’s lease payment. They are billed monthly by TMA (average cost is about $85 a month, but it depends on how far the group lives from Vanderbilt). The principal driver does not pay.
“Vanpooling is a money-saving and environmentally friendly commuting solution,” said Ken Browning, assistant vice chancellor for Medical Center Facilities and Construction. “It allows riders to share in gas costs, avoid wear and tear on their personal vehicles and save money on parking and insurance,” he said.
Taking into account all savings, employees who take advantage of this program save at least $3,000 a year,” Browning said.
The TMA Group’s Emergency Ride Home program takes the risk out of ridesharing. TMA will provide a free trip home for participants experiencing an unplanned emergency (up to six times a year), Higgs said.
And if vanpool participants need to drive their personal vehicles to work, free parking is available in Lot 127 and day passes are available for South Garage and N Lot for $3 a day.
There is the possibility that more vanpools will be added for Vanderbilt employees at One Hundred Oaks, Green Hills and Cool Springs as the need develops, Streaty said.
In addition to vanpooling, Browning said that as gas prices continue to rise, more Vanderbilt employees are looking into alternative plans for travel to work, including the Music City Star train from Mt. Juliet, MTA’s Ride to Work Program, discounted tickets for the RTA Express buses, plus carpool-matching options.
Morris said that her vanpool includes employees of both the Medical Center and the Veterans Administration Medical Center. Her van is full, but they are considering adding a second van.
Her group meets in Murfreesboro at 5:50 a.m., departs at 6:05 a.m., and arrives behind the Dayani Center about 6:40 a.m. They depart for home about 3:45 p.m.
A quiet ride home is her greatest compliment, she said.
“Some people may sleep or nap, and they have trust that I’m going to get them back and forth safely. You have days where you’re stuck in traffic or it’s raining so hard, but you’d be commuting anyway. The only difference is we’re together.”
For more information about Vanderbilt vanpooling, visit www.vanstar.com or call (888) 924-6540.
Nancy Humphrey, (615) 322-4747
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