Rough Roads: Part 4, Grassroots Answer: Ride Sharing

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(Host) According to statistics, 75% of Vermont commuters drive to work alone. But there are signs that more commuters are sharing a ride.

Today in our Rough Roads series, VPR’s Susan Keese joins a car pool to see how individuals are helping to take the pressure off the region’s highways.

(Parking lot sound–bus idling)

(Keese) The Park and Ride at the Ascutney-Weathersfield exit off I-91 is a busy place at seven in the morning. The lot’s almost full. Some Commuters are boarding a bus that stops at the VA Hospital in White River and Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

(Keese) “Why don’t you drive?”
(Woman1) “Cost of gas.”
(Woman 2) “It’s just more convenient. The college pays for us to do it, so why not take advantage of it?”
(Driver) “Good morning.”

(Keese) In the Upper Connecticut Valley, employers on both sides of the river are doing what they can to encourage employees to take public transit. The region is the second most congested part of the state, after Chittenden County.

But mass transit doesn’t work for everyone in rural areas where the population can’t support enough runs to give people lots of choices. So employers are also working with the state to encourage carpooling.

(Karen) “g’morning Cheryl. Hi Karen, how are you?”

(Seat belt clicking)

(Keese) Cheryl Bailey and Karen LeClair carpool to their jobs at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. A third rider, Glenda, had to go in early today.

(Karen) “So it’s just us. Let’s roll.”

(Keese) The women have been carpooling since early April. When gas prices started going up Bailey tried the bus. It was fine for the morning commute. But she gets out of work at 4:30. The afternoon bus leaves a little after five.

(Cheryl) “And I just have a really hard time with the end of the day, having to wait for the bus. And just for the fun of being to talk to somebody it makes the time go faster. The other thing is security at Dartmouth gives you a car plaque so you can get your own parking spot if you car pool, so that’s kind of an incentive. You know it’s hard to park there with 3,000 employees.”

(Keese) The women would like more riders. So they’ve called the ride share number posted on signs up and down the interstates. And they’ve registered with the regional car pool coordinator.

(Cheryl) “They have a car pooling list and if you think there might be somebody that might be interested in the carpooling or whatever, she gives me the name of the person and then I can contact them.”

(Keese) Just last year, Vermont’s ride share program reorganized into three districts that cover the whole state. The Upper Valley coordinator says applications have gone up fivefold since then.

Statewide, more than 6,000 would-be riders are in the ride-share database. Just under a thousand have been successfully matched with carpools.

(Keese) “But look at all these people on this highway with us, there.”
(Karen) “Yup, single car people mostly.”

(Keese) Cheryl says there is a certain comfort in having your vehicle at work. She recalls a day when her daughter became sick.

(Cheryl) “That’s when it hit me, What am I going to do? I don’t have my car to leave here. But I also learned through Ride Share that if you car pool, if I’d had to leave work to go to the hospital with my daughter, I could have called and they would have gotten me a ride.”

(Keese) The money for this and other ride share services comes mainly from federal transportation funds appropriated by the legislature — and from local town budgets. Advocates tout the environmental benefits to ride sharing.

Bailey and LeClair say they’re happy to help reduce pollution but that’s not their main concern.

(LeClair) “I think about the money and the time, money for my car, mileage on my car, money because of roads. It takes so much money to upkeep the roads.”

(Keese) As she speaks we hit a rough patch.

(Cheryl) “New Hampshire roads really are bad too, so I think the roads in general across the nation could be improved.”
(Karen) “Potholes.”
(Cheryl) “Everywhere.”

(Keese) State transportation officials blame much of the wear and tear on highways on big trucks. They say a fully loaded 18-wheeler has the impact of a couple thousand passenger cars when it comes to highway damage. They’re focusing on rails as an alternative to deal with that problem.

But individual travelers are the biggest contributors to congestion. And that affects the need for new roads, which then have to be maintained.

(Karen) “See we’re already here.
(Cheryl) “Yeah, just about.”

(Keese) In fact almost half the forty minute commute is eaten up on three miles of side roads between the interstate and the hospital.

(Karen and Cheryl) “Because of the construction and traffic for the school system and traffic going into Hanover and Dartmouth.”

(Keese) The women cut through a rural neighborhood, where traffic is also back-to back. LeClair says the neighbors here don’t want to be a main commuter artery.

They say it would help if more people joined their club.

(Karen) “Here we are, at Dartmouth.”

(Keese) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

Note: Tomorrow, we conclude our series on transportation with a look at the railroads, both past and future..

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