Columbia Professor Starts Vanpool for Bergen County Commuters

March 02, 2018

Before the Columbia-bound Tenafly, New Jersey vanpool formed, Margaret Edsall struggled to commute to Columbia using public transportation. Margaret works on the Morningside Campus as the associate vice president for Academic Planning in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but her commute over the George Washington Bridge (GWB) from Bergen County, New Jersey was causing stress and shortening her day. 

“Before the Tenafly vanpool formed, I couldn't be as productive between nine and five; I could only be productive between ten and four,” Margaret said. “I had to do more work at night and on weekends just to stay caught up. I am sure that this is the case for others who live in Tenafly and Bergen County.”

Currently, the Tenafly vanpool is serving several Columbia commuters that live in Bergen County. Each morning they meet at a designated parking area in Tenafly and travel across the GWB, stopping at the Manhattanville and Morningside campuses. Both a monthly payment option and a casual rider payment option exist to fund the vanpool. Depending on rider demand, the van can make up to two runs across the GWB to Columbia to collect commuters.

The vanpool was started by Huiming Yin, an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at Columbia. Huiming knew that due to traffic on the GWB and parking congestion in Manhattan, there was a need to pool commuters together, make our transportation network more efficient, and improve the overall commute experience. This is not a new concept for Columbia commuters, but Huiming identified a communication gap that he is working on solving with Flexible Integrated Transportation Systems (FITS).

FITS Commute is a cooperative research project between Columbia and NDJ Sustainable Engineering LLC, FITS Commute includes an app that riders can use to track the van and to RSVP for rides. The project aims to develop a smart, flexible, reliable commute service that can be as convenient and fast as driving alone, but as economically and environmentally friendly as public transit.

“Now, I arrive at work and at home in a great mood,” Margaret said. “I can concentrate better on my work when I’m at work, and I relax and unwind in the evening for a reasonable amount of time.”

While Columbia Transportation and the Office of Environmental Stewardship are not specifically affiliated with FITS Commute, the University encourages employees and students to use sustainable modes of travel like car/vanpools, bicycles, and public transportation.