For the last three decades, Kathryn Voeltz has commuted nearly 60 miles from her home in Spring Valley, Wis. to downtown Minneapolis. Never in that time has she had to make the trek alone.
Instead of driving solo, Voeltz has joined with other cross-state commuters to share the ride. After initially carpooling, Voeltz began driving a van 29 years ago and joined the Metro Vanpool program in 2002.
The program allows groups of five to 15 people in areas without regular transit service to share the cost of vehicles leased from Enterprise. The service extends into a small part of Wisconsin that is considered a commuter shed for the Twin Cities.
On Wednesday, Voeltz was among a group of six volunteer vanpool drivers to be recognized at the annual Commuter Choice Awards. Each driver has spent a decade participating in Metro Vanpool. Now in its 13th year, the program has 75 active vanpools with more than 600 active passengers.
Other drivers recognized this year commute from Eden Prairie, Lindstrom, St. Cloud, Hastings and North Branch. Combined, they have logged nearly 1.75 million miles in around 250,000 trips to and from work. Voeltz alone has driven an estimated 312,000 miles on 47,000 trips to and from Minneapolis on the Interstate 94 corridor.
“I’m sure over the years that I’ve saved myself from having to buy a new vehicle,” said Voeltz, who works at U.S. Bank.
As the volunteer driver of a 12-seat Ford passenger van, Voeltz picks up eight fellow commuters at Park & Rides in Hudson, Wis. and River Falls, Wis. that do not have bus service. The passengers found each other by using Metro Transit’s online commuter database.
By driving, Voeltz avoids parking, fuel and maintenance costs, which are shared by passengers. This month, each person in Voeltz’s vanpool paid $138 to cover expenses. The Metropolitan Council covers the other half of the lease expenses.
While the cost savings are the biggest perk, Voeltz said she also likes being in control of the vehicle. “I kind of like being in the driver’s seat because I get to pick the right lane and make the best time,” she said.
Leading a vanpool isn’t without its responsibilities, though. Besides handling the lease, vanpool drivers are responsible for reporting their commute data, maintaining a pool of passengers and collecting payments.
Randy Rosvold, senior project administrator for the program, commended Voeltz and other vanpool leaders recognized at Wednesday’s Commuter Choice Awards for their commitment, dedication and consistency.
“Really if you think about everything that’s involved, these people are really going above and beyond what traditional commuters do,” he said.
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Photo: Kathryn Voeltz, third from left, with some of her fellow vanpoolers at the downtown Minneapolis parking ramp where the group parks and meets at the end of each workday.