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You wanna split gas to Vail?

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
NWS carpooling1 KA 02-20-08
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VAIL, Colorado ” Here is the rare story of a perfect carpool.

The story begins in Summit County, home of Walid Hamzi, Carson Baker and Mike Beerntsen, all teachers at Vail Mountain School. Five days a week, they take turns driving the mind-numbing commute to work ” from Silverthorne, to Frisco and over Vail Pass ” and back again when the day is over.

Sometimes, the drive is treacherous. Hamzi remembers having to push-start Beerntsen’s Ford Escort up the pass several times in backed-up traffic. Another time, driving in a white-out blizzard, they couldn’t tell when they had reached the top ” Hamzi said it was nice to look over to a friendly face shrugging his shoulders.

“We’ve had a few hairy commutes. It’s nice just knowing someone else is there should something happen,” Hamzi said.

Other times, the drive is just boring, especially on those days when it might take an hour or more to get home. They enjoy relaxing together after a long day of school, and enjoy each other’s company on those cold mornings on I-70.

It’s about the most convenient arrangement they could imagine. All the while, they’re saving money, and the earth. Hamzi saves about $100 a month on gas sharing rides, and the fact that he doesn’t even have to turn on his car two or three days a week must be good for the environment.

“It just makes sense. Why drive two separate cars every day when we can just take one?” Hamzi said.

For other people though, finding a sensible carpool is a lot like dating. For those seeking a long term, money-saving, earth-saving, commitment, it’s hard to find that perfect match. There are just too many bachelor drivers who prefer and even require four-wheel independence.

“I know it’s a good thing, but it just wouldn’t work for me,” said Chris Mattenson, an Avon resident, ski instructor and occasional waiter. “My schedule is too weird. I need the freedom.”

He and his roommates will take the bus or share a ride when they go out on weekends, or spend a Sunday on the slopes, but commuting to work? Not possible, he says.

So many people have a hard time carpooling in the valley because of the predominance of the service industry, says Eagle-Vail resident Kimberly Gilbert.

Many people she knows, like herself, work multiple jobs, wait tables, man hotel lobbies, tend bars, teach skiing, operate lifts, drive snow cats, plow streets ” all at odd hours of the day and night chained together with no real consistency.

People give each other lifts sometimes, sure, but regular, everyday, to-the-office carpools are tough. For many people, driving yourself or taking the bus is the only reasonable way of getting around.

Carpooling to work requires commitment. It’s easier when you’re able to find someone who works at the same place, has a similar schedule, and doesn’t mind waiting a few extra minutes everyday.

That’s how Bill Carlson and Suzanne Silverthorn have been able to carpool for nearly three years together. They both work for the town of Vail, but live in Eagle and Gypsum, respectively. They meet at the Park and Ride in Eagle two or three times a week and drive to Vail together.

Other days of the week, when their schedules may not match, they take the county bus, or drive separately.

If Carlson drove his car to work everyday, that would be about 17,500 miles on his car a year, and that’s a lot of cash to spend on gas for a government worker, he said.

“It’s hard to find someone who’s interested in carpooling, and interested in riding with you, and sticking to the schedule,” Carlson said. “It’s more of a mindset and a discipline.”

Being teachers at the same school make it much easier for Hamzi, Baker and Beerntsen to carpool. And actually, they are only a few out of dozens of people at Vail Mountain School who carpool. With a large staff and lots of students, all who arrive and leave the school at similar times, there’s a good chance you can find several people who can share a ride.

Sean Minett, a Vail Mountain School student who lives in Eagle, said he’s been carpooling to school with other students for years now. He’s had as many six people in a car, and is now in a carpool of three people. Schedules conflict sometimes, but usually, everyone has been pretty flexible, he said.

Hamzi said his carpool gang does have to be flexible sometimes. They try to leave for home between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. everyday, and if someone has to stay much longer than that, then they’ll take two cars. Most days, they don’t mind waiting a little ” there’s always work to do at school.

“But two of us are always able to carpool together and usually it works out for all three of us about four or five days of the week,” Hamzi said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

Want to figure out how much money you’re spending on the daily commute? Visit http://www.ridesearch.com/public/savingscalc.aspx. Plug in the numbers and see your bill.

You can also register at http://www.ridesearch.com to try and find other interested carpoolers who live in your area.


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