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Commuter organizes 23-year vanpool

When Garth Burns retires from the Associated Press next month, he also leaves a 23-year legacy of coordinating one of the longest-running vanpools from Lawrence, KS to Kansas City, MO.

Burns recently talked to RideshareKC about his experience as a champion for this little-known, but powerful, green commute option.

Like most commuters in the region, Burns used to drive alone or carpool to Kansas City every day for his job as a computer systems manager. One evening in 1993 while driving home, another driver ran a stoplight and totaled his car, shattering his knee. He was unable to drive for more than a month.

“I had heard about the Lawrence to Kansas City vanpool and decided to try it out while my knee healed,” Burns said. “At the end of the month, my wife said, ‘You’re a lot more relaxed when you get home.’”

And he got home at the same time every night. After his knee healed, he and his wife crunched the numbers and found the vanpool fee was cheaper than a car payment. They’ve been a one-car household ever since.

In 1997, Burns took over as vanpool coordinator for the route that serves eight to 10 riders per day, but has served as many as 20. Responsibilities include divvying up the monthly fee and recruiting new riders. They ride in a 12-passenger Ford Transit van provided by Commute with Enterprise, and Burns coordinates regularly scheduled maintenance.

Burns likes the flexibility and democracy of the vanpool. Members decide the route, time and driving responsibilities. Many telework from home a few days a week. So, it is a rare day when all seats are full. This allows Burns to recruit more vanpoolers than there are available seats. More members means everyone pays less. One rider calculated that if she only rode three days a week, she would save money.

Members who are approved to drive take turns while the others rest, chat, knit, read or work. The van leaves Lawrence at 6:30 a.m., so sleep is a favorite activity. All members agree to a set of rules, including the “doughnut rule” which requires tardy riders to buy doughnuts.

The vanpool has experienced some rough times — literally. Once they were given a new van with poor suspension.

“One woman had one of those step things on her belt and when she got home it showed she had gone up 39 flights of stairs just from the bumpy ride!” said Burns. “Enterprise gave us a new van, and now it’s much smoother.”

Burns has a few strategies to recruit members. “The bulletin board at work is old school, but still pretty effective,” said Burns. “And once on the way home, there was a car with a sign in its window for carpooling. I called the number and recruited the driver for the vanpool.”

The RideshareKC ride matching website has been another source for riders, and the team at Commute with Enterprise keeps a database of potential matches.

RideshareKC estimates that during his 23-year tenure, Burns’s vanpool reduced driving by more than 4.7-million miles — enough to fly to the moon and back nine-and-a-half times.

To learn more about vanpooling visit the Commute with Enterprise website or call RideshareKC at 816-842-7433.

Commuters who choose to vanpool, carpool, ride a bus, streetcar or scooter, walk or telecommute to work from June 1 to August 31, can sign up to participate in the Green Commute Challenge and win prizes for their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Learn more at Green Commute Challenge.

Story and Photo: Jenny O’Brien, RideshareKC employer outreach coordinator

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