Physical Plant Vanpools Ease Long Commute for Employees

Posted: May 26, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nicholas Zinzer

Every weekday morning, seven passenger vans set off from locations as far as 75 miles away driving toward a single destination: George Mason’s Physical Plant.

Provided by George Mason, the vans pick up electricians, carpenters, plumbers, technicians and other workers who maintain the facilities at the Fairfax Campus.

Altogether, the vans carry a total of more than 55 employees from Luray, Front Royal, Culpepper, Warrenton and Fredericksburg in Virginia, and the Indian Head Highway area and Fort Washington in Maryland.

The passengers are not expected to pay for gasoline or maintenance. All they are required to do for a free ride to George Mason is show up at a specific meeting point on time. The vanpools began two years ago with three vehicles.

“The vans provide low-cost transportation to the plant employees who can’t afford to live in the Washington metro area but provide a valuable service to the university,” says Larry Spaine, director of the Physical Plant.

Spaine believes the vanpools are beneficial to George Mason and the community. They “eliminate the need for about 50 parking places on campus… [in addition to] reducing the number of vehicles on the road.”

Randal Beahm, a plumber and steamfitter who has worked at the Physical Plant for about two years, says the long commute is necessary because well-paying jobs are scarce in rural areas of Virginia like Luray.

“There are no jobs in Luray. The factories in our area closed over the last five years,” says Beahm. “We could get jobs closer but not as good benefits.”

The long daily commute does not deter Mark Gray, who works on general maintenance at the Physical Plant. “We leave so early in the morning that we’re back at a decent time in the evening.”

Gray prefers the atmosphere in Luray compared to Northern Virginia. “Luray is more laid-back,” says Mark Gray. “I like to work here, but I like to leave every afternoon to go home to the mountains.”

He says he couldn’t imagine living in Northern Virginia because there are “too many people too close together.”

On most mornings and afternoons, the van riders sleep while one of them drives. Each leg of the trip takes approximately 90 minutes. Sometimes a trip can take as long as three hours one way if traffic is congested or the weather is bad.

Alan Jones, a building warranty technician, gets up five days a week at 2:30 a.m. and drives 25 miles from his hometown in Rileyville, Va., to the meeting point for the Front Royal van. Jones prefers to maintain his lifestyle in the mountainous region of Front Royal rather than the suburban atmosphere in most of Northern Virginia.

“In Rileyville, you don’t have all the traffic, noise and the hectic attitudes,” says Jones.

He adds that the free vans are “better than paying for the gas yourself and driving everywhere by yourself.”

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