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Fran Wagstaff: Solo Driver No More

By Colleen Chandler
July 2005

members of the vanpool
Wagstaff, on the far right, with members of the vanpool that starts and ends in Greensboro each day.

Fran Wagstaff, an administrative specialist in the Office of the Scientific Director, is quoted on a Research Triangle Park web site, enthusiastically touting the benefits of vanpooling.

Wagstaff lives in the Burlington/Graham area, and drove to NIEHS for nearly 15 years. During that time, she drove more that 375,000 miles, went through five full sets of tires, two windshields and literally wore out three cars. Four times she had tires blow out on the Interstate at 65 miles per hour, and at last count, was spending upwards of $50 per week on gas.

But that was then.

After contacting Dick Sloane, the NIEHS resource recovery specialist and Transhare program coordinator, Wagstaff discovered a Triangle Transit Authority vanpool already existed that would pick her up 5 miles from her house and deposit her in Research Triangle Park. From the RTP bus terminal, she could catch a TTA shuttle to NIEHS.

"I despise riding on the interstate - at least as far as driving," she said." But now I don't have to drive." With the NIEHS subsidy, Wagstaff's ride to work is free.

Sloane said she was so excited about the vanpool once she joined that he asked her to draft something for the TTA web site, which she did. Although it is his job to promote alternative modes of transportation for NIEHS employees, Sloane couldn't have said it better himself.

Her testimonial can be found at: http://www.smartcommute.org/Vanpool.htm.

"I've begun to use the commute time to read a good book, something I hadn't done in years. And, yes, I've taken a few naps along with way," Wagstaff said on the TTA web site. "And while I'm meeting new people, reading a good book or taking a nap, our van pool as a whole eliminates 15 cars in the morning commute, cutting the traffic issues during rush hour and saving on the use of fuel in general."

Wagstaff says it takes her about 1 ½ hours to get to work each way, about twice the time it took when she drove herself. But she says it is well worth it. Number one on her list of reasons to vanpool - even higher than saving the cost of gas, car maintenance, repairs and insurance - is the fact that riding in a vanpool takes the stress out of the long commute.

Nearby, in Raleigh, city officials are looking at TTA and its RTP activities designed to get people involved in vanpooling, riding the bus or biking to work. The Raleigh News & Observer reported that 2,500 RTP workers took part in last year's Smart Commute Challenge, pledging to try another way to get to work.

Sloane said the NIEHS Transhare Program, which subsidizes and in many cases pays the entire cost of vanpooling or riding the bus, is a good deal for riders and the Institute, because:

  • Vanpooling and riding the bus save employees money, reduce auto emissions, and the stress-free ride to work improves the quality of their lives. Instead of exerting all that energy fighting with traffic, riders can sleep, read, chat with other riders, daydream, or just enjoy the beautiful North Carolina scenery. (Just ask Fran.)
  • It's a good deal for NIEHS because it means fewer cars in the crowded parking lots, it improves employee moral and even provides a little more physical activity for them. It gives the Institute a great image as a supporter of alternative modes of transportation and shows NIEHS is an advocate for air quality.

The NIEHS program started in 2000, but really didn't swing into action until April 2001, when Sloane filled the newly created coordinator slot. He said he expects another 10-15 percent increase in the number of people participating the in subsidy program by the end of next year. Unless, that is, the cost of gas continues to rise.

Money Central, on msn.com, lists Raleigh-Durham as the ninth most expensive place to in the U.S. to drive to work.

NIEHS currently subsidizes the cost of 12 people on vanpools and 53 bus riders. Also part of the Transhare Program, 61 people telecommute, 34 carpool, 21 cycle to work, and 3 ride motorcycles, Sloane said.

For people considering trying one of the alternative methods to get to work, Wagstaff offers this advice: "Give it a try for a month or two. You can always go back to driving."

Biologist Sandy Ward telecommutes, working from home two days a week. She estimates that cuts 5,200 miles a year from her commute and saves her more than $400.

For more information on the NIEHS Transhare Program, go to https://www.niehs.nih.gov/omfeb/transhare.htm.



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