This morning I started something new. Microsoft has started a vanpool to help employees in the Santa Cruz area get to work. This is pretty low-tech but also pretty darn cool.
Today I jumped on the bus so to speak. With gas at $4 it certainly makes sense financially to do it. I will be trying to ride in most days. Of course, I travel quite a bit so those days when I’m in Seattle I won’t be driving in. :)
Microsoft could not have made this any easier. Kudos to the Microsoft Silicon Valley leadership team and Facilities for making this happen. They were looking to “enhance the Microsoft employee experience” and they certainly did that. Microsoft established a relationship with Enterprise Rent-A-Car that did much of the work to get this started. Microsoft also funded all sorts of things to get us on the road including important geeky stuff like a WiFi hookup in the van. Wait… What? That’s right, WiFi in the van!
The absolute best part about a vanpool is that you can do other stuff (like get an early start on work) while someone else does the driving. Today, I flipped open my laptop and took notes while we were on the road:
7:38 - Left home
7:46 - Arrived at the pickup place
7:50 – Hey, the van’s already here. Kent, who is one of the alternate drivers, was in Surf City Coffee getting some java jo for the road. Note to self: I need to get myself set up as an alternate also just in case and to give the other drivers a chance to take a break. They may even want to continue taking vacations and stuff like that. :)
8:00 - We are supposed to be leaving about now but we’re waiting for one additional person who has emailed over the weekend saying he’d be here. There are three of us ready to go: Kent, Blair and myself. There are actually a few more in the vanpool but not everyone rides everyday.
8:05 – That last person hasn’t made it. The pickup spot was changed a couple of days back so maybe he never got that memo. Oops. :( Anyway there’s a 5 min grace/wait period then the van takes off whether you’re there or not. Hmm… Missing the bus in the morning is not as a big a deal, as you’re in your car and you can just drive yourself in although it’ll take you a lot longer to get there. Missing your ride in the afternoon will kind of suck. Again Microsoft has made this easier by providing alternate ways to get home if you get caught having to work late or for whatever reason.
8:15 – Traffic on highway 17 seems a little light today. We’re moving quickly.
8:30 – We arrive at highway 85 and go to the front of the metering line. That is sweeeet! We probably save 10 minutes right there.
8:35 – We’re zooming along in the diamond lane. There’s an accident on 85 apparently. I say apparently because I completely missed it. I had my head down in my laptop working. Nice!
8:40 - Zip Zip Zip. We’re passing you. Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Ok… so maybe that was mean :) It sure feels good to be moving, knowing that if I was driving I would have been in that traffic at a complete standstill.
8:43 - We’re almost there as we take the off-ramp to get off 85.
8:47 - We arrive at Microsoft Silicon Valley (MSV). Microsoft has even provided a dedicated parking spot in the parking lot so that we have a regular meeting place.
That was completely painless and I would even say enjoyable. I don’t think I’ve ever said that about driving in in the morning.
Kent mentioned he thought that today’s ride was just short of optimal which for him is about 35-40 minutes door—to-door with no traffic. I think you need to factor in a lot more. It actually took me a little longer compared to driving myself in. Time is definitely not the whole story. Admittedly, since this was my first day, I did leave my house about 10 minutes earlier than I had to in order to make sure I was parked and ready to go. So let’s say for the sake of argument it took about an hour to get in. That’s about what it takes me to drive in anyway so that part's a wash. What was really interesting was all the other benefits. Here’s the ones that came to me in no particular order:
On the downside:
Judging from the first day’s experience this is going to make my life easier so I’m looking forward to that. Let me know of your experiences with vanpools in the comments section below.