University van pool program gets rolling

Faculty and staff members commute in vans leased by the Metropolitan Council.

Mike Enright

Michelle Trudeau-Spanjers spends about two hours a day commuting to and from her job at the University.

The principal laboratory technician in the University’s veterinary diagnostic lab said she used to make the trek from Forest Lake to her St. Paul campus job alone.

But since last week, Trudeau-Spanjers and four other University faculty and staff members have been riding together in the University’s first van pool, dubbed Van-GO.

Van-GO is a program sponsored by the Metropolitan Council in which groups of five to 15 people commute together in vans leased by the council. According to its Web site, the council pays 55 percent of the lease, while van poolers pay the other 45 percent, along with gas and parking fees.

Bill Stahlmann, parking and transportation services transit manager, said the University partnered with Van-GO because it supports alternative forms of transportation and wants employees and students to benefit from a good program.

“We want to reduce the amount of cars on campus to reduce congestion and pollution,” Stahlmann said. “We want to be green.”

Jacqueline Brudlos, parking and transportation services marketing coordinator, said van pooling is designed for people in areas where there is little or no bus service and is especially good for people who live 20 or more miles from work.

“We estimate that each person in a van pool will save $800 a year,” Brudlos said.

The Metropolitan Council Web site states the average cost for a person in a van pool is about $115 per month, and designated van drivers don’t pay anything.

Faculty and staff members can save even more money now because the program is offering a promotion in which van poolers have to pay only for gas during the first month, Brudlos said.

Trudeau-Spanjers said she paid $44 for gas for the van this month.

“But that’s what I would usually pay per week just on gas (driving alone),” she said.

Brudlos said the University is currently only coordinating Van-GO for faculty and staff. It would be tougher to offer to students, she said, because they often have variable schedules and most are not eligible to drive the leased vans.

“A rider could be a freshman or student of any level, but a driver would have to be 25,” Brudlos said.

First-year student Christine Diegnau said her schedule makes her drive to school by herself, but she would rather car pool or use a program like Van-GO.

“It kind of solves all the problems of commuting,” she said. “You don’t have to drive, but you don’t have to ride the bus. The bus kind of scares me.”

Trudeau-Spanjers said she’s been very happy with her van pool so far and hopes the program will grow.

“It would be great if we could get one van pool going to St. Paul and one going to Minneapolis,” she said.