It’s not a Delorian and it can’t travel through time, but Michael Yoshida thinks his new ride to work is a thing of the future. He is a rider in Community Transit’s Vanpool service, which provides safe, reliable vans so that groups traveling to or from Snohomish County can commute together to save time, money and the planet. At the beginning of April, five Vanpool groups began driving new hybrid vans to work every weekday, using less gas and reducing air pollution. Yoshida, who does facilities-related work at the University of Washington, is in one of these lucky groups.
He joined a Vanpool group of six riders about two months before the pandemic began. For Yoshida, a busy father of four, Vanpool has simplified his commute.
“Taking a van makes my commute faster due to carpool lanes, especially during my afternoon commute. From the extra 15 minutes of sleep that I get to being able to arrive to work with my coffee mug still warm, there are a lot of benefits,” he says.
“Most of the people in my Vanpool are essential workers — a few are electricians at UW medical center. They keep things running at the hospital, so getting to work on time, even during a pandemic, is important,” says Yoshida.
Community Transit’s Vanpool service is the second-largest in Washington state. There are over 135 Community Transit Vanpool groups actively commuting even now, serving workers at major employers throughout the region, many of them in essential jobs like Yoshida’s.
When the pandemic hit, his Vanpool group split into two separate vans of only three people to allow for social distancing. During the pandemic, Community Transit’s Vanpool program enacted changes to help ensure riders who continued to commute together were safe.
At the beginning of April, Yoshida’s new smaller group was issued one of the program’s five new 2020 Chrysler Pacifica hybrids. These new vans are powered by 97 percent carbon-free electricity and can travel 32 miles on battery alone.
“It has turned our van into something more like a touchless bus.” Says Yoshida. “I can turn it on from inside my house to warm up with the remote start, and it has steering wheel heaters and seat heaters so we’re always comfortable. When I pick people up, I simply press a button to open the door. The navigation syncs with my phone. Everything is modern and it makes for a luxurious ride.”
On-campus charging stations have made it so that his group can use less gas for both legs of the commute. “I have gone 400 miles since the last fill-up and I am at three-fourths of a tank. It makes the commute run smoother … a four-mile average a day of gas means less stopping and refilling, too.”
“The only drawback is that I probably get less exercise since I can park so close to my building now, using the charging stations,” he says.
For Yoshida, being a part of the pilot program has helped him think more about how he gets places.
“I feel privileged to be in this program and like I am helping shape a part of the future. In 20 years, when my current 2-year-old is driving, he will ask me what it was like to drive gas-powered vehicles. I feel like this is how everything must go for a better future.”
Yoshida encourages anyone looking to simplify their commute to consider Vanpool.
“I have had commutes where I scootered, bused, biked, and carpooled. I encourage folks to sign up with any services that will optimize commuting.” He also encourages people to talk to their employers about resources they offer. “There are a lot of ideas they are set up to offer that you may not have thought of. Vanpool isn’t for everyone and people’s needs are different. It’s good to explore what’s out there.”