An Exceptional Commute Q&A with Kristi Duenas

June 09, 2020

Tell me about the kind of commuting you do, and how long you’ve been doing it.

“Before I began working at Gonzaga two years ago, I worked at EWU. I had a very long commute, I drove roughly 45-50 miles roundtrip every day. I have a Prius, purposefully, because I felt guilty driving 45-50 miles every day. Often, I had a friend who would commute with me, either to work, or from work, but a lot of those miles were by myself. I couldn’t ride the bus because of my children. I had to drop off one kid here and another kid here, on my way to work. When I came back to Gonzaga (I had worked here previously, a long time ago), my husband and I decided we were going to ride together. He works here as well, he works in the College of Arts and Sciences. It saves us a ton of money on gas, and it also gives us the chance, every day, to start the day together. We have three children, and all five of us get in the car every morning. We drop off two at one spot, and one at another, and then we go to work. It’s kind of crazy, but we never spent this much time together before, because we used to go our separate ways. It’s given us, not just my husband and I, but our kids too, a chance to talk and chat before the day starts and get things arranged for the day.”

What inspires or motivates you to engage in this type of commuting?

“One of the things that drives me in lots of ways is that I want the earth to be around for my kids. It’s a big incentive for me to conserve where I can, even when it’s not ideal, to make it work. There are times when my husband has an 8:00 meeting, so it means we leave earlier. My kids may not always appreciate that I’m getting them up ten minutes earlier, but the payoff is that we travel together instead of taking that second car. It’s a tradeoff, but it’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make in order to not have to deal with two cars. It’s also kind of relaxing. In the morning, you get in the car, and you can listen to music, read a book, it’s like being on the bus but having your own seat! And on the way home, sometimes we switch. So that gives the other person a chance to also benefit from our commute system. Sometimes I get to the car first, so I’ll go pick him up, or vice versa.”

What support for this type of commuting have you received? Are your coworkers, family, and friends supportive?

“I haven’t really run into anyone in either of our offices who have said ‘oh you know what, this isn’t going to work.’ But when it comes down to it, we do have two cars, so we can switch around. My son will be driving next year, so that lends itself well to depending on only one car to get to work. So we won’t need a third car, because we have two!”

What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced as an alternative commuter?

“I think when one of us gets called away. We’ve had some times where I have had to stay at work until 8 or 8:30 at night, and we had ridden together, which means he has to return to pick me up, at 8:30 at night, with three kids who are supposed to be going to bed soon, and things like that. The occasional late night or early morning unexpected thing, where maybe a kid gets sick or something, that is also difficult. I do have to say, none of my coworkers really live in my direction, some of them do, but not very many, but I can’t honestly say that anybody I know that lives close to me would not have given me a ride home. I know at least four other people that live within a couple miles of where I live, and if I had called and said, ‘could you give me a ride home? My husband had to take the kids,’ I cannot think of any of those people that wouldn’t have said ‘sure, I’ll drop you off!’”

Is there anything that you wish people knew about carpooling?

“I think that people think it’s hard. That it’s inconvenient, it’s hard, I’m going to be trapped, I can’t go home if it’s not my car, if it is my car and I abandon the people that ride in the carpool with me, then what happens? I have a definite advantage because I carpool with my husband, but when I carpooled with my friend to Cheney, he said that was the hardest thing for him. If you want to go to lunch, you have to catch a ride. I think that is the hardest part for people to overcome. But once you get used to it, and you realize that there are other people doing the same thing, it’s helpful. Those people that live within two miles of my house are not in my office, they’re not people I see every day, they’re just people I know live close to me. I don’t think anyone at the university that I’ve met, wouldn’t say ‘yeah I’ll take you home.’ So once you get over that mental hurdle, it’s not an actual reliance on the vehicle but it’s more of a mental construct that we’ve created, especially those of us that grew up driving. I grew up living 6 miles from the nearest town, everybody drives. So once you get used to that, that disconnect, where we think we have to rely on a vehicle can disappear.”

Do you think there is anything Gonzaga could do to get more individuals involved with carpooling?

“I wish more people were aware of the possibility of carpooling. Among the people that live close to me, I know there are more. I know probably 5 or 6 people who live close to me, and I know there are faculty that live fairly close. So encouraging that. I don’t know what COVID-19 will do to a vanpool or a carpool, and the reality is that sometimes people’s schedules just don’t mesh, but to be able to reach out and suggest trying to carpool once a week. Making those connections can sometimes be hard.”

Any final thoughts or words of wisdom you want people to know, whether about carpooling or life in general?

“In terms of carpooling, it can be a very enriching experience. I’m thinking back to my time riding back and forth to Cheney every day with my coworker. We became really good friends, and even now, I don’t work there and he still does, we still talk a lot and he comes over to the house and hangs out with our kids. It’s an opportunity to expand your structure in a fairly safe environment. I’m not necessarily saying to pick up some person on the side of the road, but make friends with the people you work with and then travel that road together. Also, don’t be afraid to combine carpooling with other types of transportation. My son goes to North Central and he walks over to the university. We drop him at school in the morning, and then he walks over to the university in the afternoon and we take him home with us. We’ve combined a few modes of transportation to make carpooling work with us, and keep us down to the one car. He rides the bus home a lot, so we’ve combined a variety of versions of ridesharing in order to make the choices we have made work.”