Two years ago, Scott Nixon, a web developer in the Department of Human Resources, decided to join forces with a friend and carpool to work from Plainville, about an hour’s drive from Storrs.
Both Nixon and his colleague saved money just as gas prices were beginning to soar, and the partnership gave each of them somebody to talk to during the ride.
Why not create a University-wide web site that would allow others to do what he did, thought Nixon.
And so the Carpool Tool was born.
The list is secure and requires a NetID and UConn password. Names can be searched by state, county, or town.
“The simplicity of the Carpool Tool is what makes it successful,” says Nixon. “People enter their name, hometown, and either an e-mail address or a phone number. When they see somebody on the list that lives nearby, all they have to do is contact them and set it up.”
The effort is paying off. A number of faculty and staff signed on almost immediately, and each time an announcement or reminder about the site is made, more people sign up. There are 268 people currently listed on the site, and Nixon says dozens more have joined for a while, removing their names when they found a passenger.
The carpooling is also making a dent in the University’s carbon footprint: according to the Office of Environmental Policy, commuters account for 8.26 percent of the University’s total greenhouse gas inventory at the Storrs campus.
Luke Rogers, an assistant professor of mathematics who lives in New Haven, is one of those now driving to work with a passenger.
“It’s certainly working out well financially,” Rogers says. “I have a very reliable carpool partner, and I really enjoy our conversations. We tell stories about our families, trade recipes, discuss books, and swap news from our respective parts of campus. You could say that carpooling let me trade my wasted hours in traffic for time spent with a new friend.”
Lynn Zayachkiwsky, assistant to President Michael Hogan, has been carpooling from Bolton since before UConn’s service began, but when the Carpool Tool was announced, she and her carpool partner, Laura Webb, a business manager for the Alumni Association, put their names on UConn’s carpooling website in hopes of expanding their pool. They did: three more people signed on almost immediately.
“There are inconveniences to carpooling,” she says. “We don’t have reserved parking, we each pay full parking fees, and it takes us longer to get off campus because of the multiple pick-ups. But in spite of that, we make it work for the sake of the environment, the wear and tear on our cars, meeting new people, and to keep down traffic on campus.”
Zayachkiwsky says she hopes the University will offer incentives in the future, such as buses between the commuter lots at highway exits and the UConn campus, to encourage more people to carpool.
Barry Feldman, chief operating officer, says the University has, indeed, been looking into ways to promote car pooling, but budget constraints are limiting what can be done.
“We’ve had conversations with Connecticut Transit about operating some sort of park and ride, but it was difficult to determine how to make it operate effectively,” he says.
“It was also clear that it would be very expensive and the University would have to subsidize it to make it work.”
The administration is encouraging people to carpool, however, and continues to examine ways to make carpooling easier, Feldman adds.
Karen Logan, marketing and events coordinator in the School of Pharmacy, says that working around the schedules of others in her carpool has extended her workday, but she likes the fact that carpooling is a green activity.
Logan has been able to reduce the number of times she drives to Storrs from her home in Manchester by 75 percent – a tremendous savings in gas, oil, and wear and tear on her car.
Webb, one of Zayachkiwsky’s partners, suggests adding another category to the Carpool Tool website so people can list the hours they work. That would weed out a lot of unnecessary communications, she says.
Nixon says he welcomes suggestions for improving the site.