From plumbing to hardware:
Shuttle service provides transportation—and conversation
Ask ACD’s Chris Halvorson what he likes best about taking the shuttle to and from work, and the veteran rider responds, “I’ve always enjoyed good conversations with the shuttle drivers.” Then he jokes, “But really it’s all those detours we take to the Walnut Brewery.”
The downtown Walnut Brewery is, regrettably, not a shuttle stop. This doesn’t seem to discourage people from boarding the shuttle, however. On an average day, the drivers transport about 150 staffers and visitors between the Mesa Lab, Foothills Lab, and Center Green campuses, with stops between. They also manage NCAR’s “black bag” service and keep the fleet of five vans, one of which runs on natural gas, clean and maintained.
The shuttle system started back in 1989 with NCAR’s proposal to expand the Mesa Lab. When residents at the bottom of the hill objected to the idea of more employees driving cars through their neighborhood each day, a shuttle system seemed like the perfect solution. As it turned out, NCAR obtained the Foothills facilities instead of expanding on the mesa. With campuses on both ends of town, a shuttle system looked even more attractive. As a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) newsletter asked in the early 1990s, “Have you ever found yourself driving to a midday meeting at another NCAR site? Perhaps even grumbling to yourself that ‘there must be a better way?’”
A decade later, that “better way” remains the TAP-sponsored shuttle system administered under Safety and Site Services, in which drivers Peter Friend, Carri Kawahara, Roger Schaefer, Jaime Shuey, and Ziggie Swan negotiate Boulder’s congestion and construction. They might even engage riders in conversation that ranges from the weather forecast (gee, really?) to mutual funds.
Enjoying the passengers
The five drivers are unanimous that the highlight of shuttle driving is their passengers. “I like the people best,” says Carri. “My riders have helped me immensely with everything from plumbing to trouble-shooting hardware. Though I have yet to find someone who can explain game theory to me in a way I can understand.”
Carri used to drive special transit in Iowa City. She wears three hats around here, also covering the front desk at Foothills Lab and taking care of recycling. She says she likes driving so much that, if she won the lottery and didn’t have to work anymore, she’d take road trips all the time. When she drives, she listens to music that runs the gamut from Edith Piaf to flamenco to the Pointer Sisters. On one shift, thinking the van was empty, Carri cranked the volume up to unprecedented levels on Dvorak’s New World Symphony. “When I pulled into Foothills Lab, I heard something behind me,” she says. “There was a guy behind me in the shuttle. It was so embarrassing.”
Another driver, Ziggie Swan, also had driving experience before coming to NCAR. Ziggie was one of the first female Regional Transportation District drivers in Denver back in the 1970s. She says she likes any kind of movement—cars, motorcycles, bicycles. Like Carri, she also says her passengers are one of the best parts of her job. “I really like our people,” she says. “Most of them tend to be very concerned about our ecology and economy. It’s been rare, except when I’m in Boulder, that people are concerned about the planet they live on.”
Jaime Shuey has been driving the NCAR shuttle for five years. She was a full-time artist who found herself suffering from what she describes as “people deprivation” when she saw an ad for a driver in the paper. “I decided it was time to get out of the house,” she says. Jaime continues to work as an artist, selling stained glass through the Middle Fish gallery in Boulder. She also takes tourists on driving tours of Boulder.
One month after he retired from a management career in the insurance industry, Roger Schaefer decided he couldn’t just sit around. Driving the NCAR shuttle part-time is his dream job, he says. Even the traffic doesn’t bother him too much. “I came here from Dallas, and people who complain about traffic in Boulder don’t know what it could be like,” he says. Like the other drivers, Roger appreciates the variety of his passengers, particularly those from overseas. He likes to talk politics with his riders, even though it can be challenging sometimes. “I’m a political junkie, and there’s some people I share politics with,” he says. “But the vast majority of NCAR people are on the left, while I’m on the right.”
Rookie Peter Friend started driving the shuttle as a temp and became permanent two years ago. He likes the fact that driving the shuttle gives him a great amount of autonomy. “You’re not stuck in one place, except the van, obviously,” he says. While stuck in the van, his main source of amusement, in addition to jazz and classical music, is his passengers. “You’ve got a lot of smart, astute people getting on and they talk about different things,” he says. “We talk about more than just the issues ofthe day.”
Traffic and weather
The drivers say the hardest part of their job is confronting other people’s bad driving habits as they make the rounds from the Foothills Lab to the Mesa Lab.
“You see a lot of stuff that isn’t very laudable,” Peter says. “People being reckless, or just bad drivers.”
Of course, there’s also the weather, which can make traffic grind to a halt on the ride home from work. Carri recalls a particularly memorable snowstorm two years ago. “We were sitting outside Wendy’s for so long we figured we could go in and have dinner and the van would be in the same spot,” she says.
When one of the drivers can’t make it to work, back-up drivers Kathleen Freebern, Bob Ford, and Kathy Zinge takethe wheel. “Without them we would never have time off,” Ziggie says. The three normally deliver black bags between Foothills and Center Green.
Asked what they would change about their job, the drivers’ suggestions run from practical to fanciful. Jaime would like less construction in Boulder, while Carri requests a traffic light at Center Green and Valmont.
“I’d like a uniform, with epaulets, and to drive a Lincoln town car,” Peter says. “I could be dedicated to the executive in an elite division of NCAR shuttle drivers. Home, James!”