I always heard the honk while I was still snuggled under the covers. His entire 35-year career at the Corps of Engineers, my father rode in the same carpool, just like Dagwood. Over dinner, I absorbed snippets of gossip about the driver Roberta, who had a grown son who wouldn’t move out, and a man known only as Crabtree. My father left the house promptly at 6:30 a.m. with his metal lunchbox of leftovers my sisters and I hadn’t finished the night before. He returned promptly at 5 p.m. in time to read the Kansas City Star, then the evening paper, before dinner at 5:30. Gas prices were on the rise. President Carter urged conservation and environmental stewardship. It’s just another tale from the dinosaur age — or is it?
Though the 2005 Census revealed that nine out of 10 American workers still drove to work alone, times have again changed. Environmental awareness and gas prices are on the rise. Employees and employers alike have seen the merit of changing the one-car, one-driver standard.
An illustrator at Hallmark Cards, Lawrence resident and 30-year carpool veteran Stacy Lamb says she has witnessed a growing popularity in vanpools. In fact, there’s a waiting list for hers, which is organized through the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. At 7 a.m. sharp, she and seven other Hallmarkers leave from the Hallmark plant in Lawrence and pull into corporate headquarters in Kansas City at 7:40. In the afternoon, they leave at 4:40 p.m., and they’re back in Lawrence by 5:30, an enforced end Lamb says she appreciates: “If I lived closer to work, I can see myself running in to work 10 minutes here and there and losing my life. I have my work in Kansas City and my home life in Lawrence, and they don’t intersect. I think that’s really healthy.” Because the van has a designated driver, she can use the trip each way to prepare mentally: “On the way there, I close my eyes and lay out my workday. I do the same thing at night. I come down from work and prepare for my next job as a parent and spouse. I really value and honor that time.” Lamb primarily appreciates how much carpooling lessens her carbon footprint, but it has many other benefits, such as never having to drive in bad weather and preventing wear and tear on her vehicle.
Lawrence resident Janine Cox, a deputy appellate defender in Topeka, agrees her vanpool is indispensable: “Being able to get in, sit down and not have to do anything for 35 minutes after a morning of dashing around (and) getting my daughter ready is so valuable.” Cox says she also appreciates the camaraderie: “We all enjoy each other’s company, even if sometimes that means we ride in silence. We have a mutual respect and understanding.” Her vanpool is organized through the Kansas Department of Administration, where others can sign up as well.
For those who have the flexibility, privately arranged carpools like my father’s are still a great option, too. According to Grist.org, the average commuter travels about 15 miles each way to work. If each person shared a ride with just one other, one car would be kept off the road 7,500 miles a year, saving 300 gallons of gas and preventing thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions, numbers even Dagwood could appreciate.