Commuting in the NCR: the good, bad and ugly
March 30, 2012
Mastering the transportation of a drive, ride or walk to work involve the timing of a hilarious comedian, the patience of Job and the luck of a Las Vegas gambler.
Many variables go into rolling into a parking garage or to a driveway on time and on budget. A longer trip may save minutes but quickly empty a gas tank. A Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall employee may elect to live in the quiet of the country rather than reside in a high-rise apartment. A person with a quick step may choose to walk a mile instead of waiting an extra half hour for a bus or shuttle.
After weighing those variables, many commuters have to pick their poison. They can either save money or save time or choose a city lifestyle or commute cross-country from the countryside.
For every joint base commuter, there is a separate journey on how they arrive at their work site. Ron Kaczmarek, JBM-HH Department of Public Works Director, and JBMHH Safety Chief Leroy Brown both have lengthy commutes but use different modes of transportation.
Kaczmarek lives closer to Harrisburg, Pa., than to JBM-HH, but he prefers his commute and the quality of life rural Pennsylvania offers.
"I commute five days a week from Chambersburg, Pa.," the director said in an email. "From my door to my office, it is 96.2 miles one way. I leave at 4:30 in the morning, and I'm in work by 6 a.m. with my start time of 6:30, and I leave the office at around 3 p.m. to 3:15, and I'm home by 5:15 [p.m.] every day."
Some of Kaczmarek's mileage history facts are head-turning. He turned in a 2004 Volvo S-60 in 2010 after spinning the odometer to 326,000 miles. The DPW director spends $125 on gas per week while driving a Honda CR-V.
As for Brown's romp through the District of Columbia toward Virginia, he uses the Metro and his feet to cover the ground.
"I come in from Prince George's County -- the Capitol Heights area -- and I get on only one line, the Blue Line, and I get off at the Rosslyn station."
Brown then heads off on a 20-minute walk past the Iwo Jima Memorial to his work location on JBM-HH. Unless he is running late or weather is inclement, he shuns bus or shuttle service.
"Walking just gets me here faster," Brown said. "The weather also plays a factor. In the warmer months, I have no problem walking, but I can see how walking would be a problem for people who are older or have medical problems."
Pentagram staff writer Tina Vilca was in an experimental mood toward the end of a past work day. Driving to and from Fredericksburg, Va. each work day, she decided to try a concept that can be beneficial to both drivers and passengers -- slugging.
Slugging has been called a controlled-chaos car pool. The equation involves two parties -- a driver looking to invade the quicker high occupancy vehicle [HOV] lanes by giving riders searching for a lift home. To improve her travel time home, Vilca headed to an area where many Department of Defense workers become passengers so vehicles can become HOV lane-ready.
"At the Pentagon slug lines, it was a mad house. Getting in the HOV was a good thing. I got in the HOV at 4:21 p.m., and it took me 45 minutes total to get home," said Vilca who mentioned a non-slugging commute home takes an hour and a half to two hours. "Picking up sluggers for the first time was very scary. I have never opened my car to strangers, but I was willing to give it a try to experience slugging and to see if it was really worth the idea of getting home a little bit earlier."
Relying on others to share a commute is a common theme among JBM-HH staffers. From her desk inside Headquarters Command Battalion S-3, Azusa Johnson keeps a hard-back binder of her commuting exploits. Johnson's preferred mode of commuting is via vanpooling.
Her get-to-work day begins around 6 a.m. when she congregates with other JBM-HH employees in Woodbridge and travels north.
That is the simple part. Johnson contends hours of work and research go into becoming a party to a reliable vanpool and the expense is becoming quite steep.
"[Finding a vanpool] is not a one-stop shop," Johnson said. "To me, the data base of phone numbers [of prospective vanpool drivers] is very difficult to use. The phone numbers are outdated. One person can refer you to another person and another person can refer you to somebody else. Maybe after an hour or two, you will have an answer [on a vanpool] if you are lucky."
Johnson noted that she is subsidized to commute to work, but due to budget cuts, that amount has basically been cut in half.
"The government pays you to use mass transit," Johnson said. "It can be either to van pool or bus or subway. Now that amount has been cut down to $125 a month, so to vanpool, we have to make up the difference. Most of us now have to pay out of our own pockets."
Old Guard Charlie Company Soldier Spc. Brandon Phillips calls Fort Belvoir home, and his Family is a one-car Family. So, he carpools to and from JBM-HH -- the hours away from home can be brutal. "It [the car pool] is a regular thing, and we all split the weeks up or gas every other week," he said. "When there's a schedule change, we all still go in [together] and whoever doesn't have to be in that early gets to sleep in the car till it's time to go in."
Phillips' main reason to team with Soldiers to commute is for his Family. "I carpool because I have two young children - a 19-month-old boy and a 6-year-old girl - and we have only one car," he said. "I don't like to leave my wife without a car with the babies at home."