When a shiny new fleet of five blue Dodge vans hit the road in 1984 as the fledgling UCLA Vanpool Program, Michael Goodwin was one of the first to get behind the wheel. Three years out of the Navy and into his job as an engineer at UCLA’s central steam plant, Goodwin volunteered to man the van to Canyon Country (now part of Santa Clarita), a 70-mile roundtrip he’d been driving solo.

UCLA, at the time a commuter campus, launched the vanpool program with a thought to reducing traffic and pollution during the 1984 Summer Olympics, for which UCLA served as an Olympic village for athletes and venue for gymnastics and tennis events.

Signing up for the vanpool gave Goodwin the companionship of friendly UCLA staff and students for the roughly hour-long trip, but it meant surrendering some of his independence as a solitary driver.

“The vanpool was a change because you don’t have the freedom to be stopping off and taking care of your business or whatever,” Goodwin said. “But that was about the only adjustment.”

Three decades later, Goodwin is now one of Facilities Management’s more experienced steam plant engineers, working to maintain the eight miles of high-pressure steam distribution lines that run beneath the campus to provide heating for more than 60 buildings. And he’s still a vanpool driver, now doing a 65-mile route from Lancaster, where he and his wife moved in 1990 to buy a house and raise their four children.

“The vanpool’s saved me lots of money,” Goodwin said. “I sold my second car.”

In the program’s earliest years, Goodwin recalled, drivers were allowed personal use of the vans during evenings and weekends. While policies now restrict this, Goodwin and other drivers still benefit financially from the fact that gas and maintenance costs for the vans are paid by UCLA Transportation as part of the incentive for being a driver and to promote non-solo driving.

Earlier this month, Goodwin and three dozen fellow staff and faculty drivers were honored for going the extra mile for the vanpool program, now celebrating its 30th anniversary. The program has grown to 160 vanpools with almost 1,700 full-time passengers, along with another 1,000 part-timers. They travel from 85 Southern California communities, including locations as distant as Oxnard, Laguna Hills and Moreno Valley. Goodwin’s van is now one of 14 coming from the Lancaster/Antelope Valley area. And Goodwin is part of a cadre of 450-plus drivers, with two to four regular and back-up drivers for each route.

“The vanpool drivers, who are volunteers, have been a tremendous asset and the backbone of this program,” UCLA Transportation senior associate director Penny Menton told the drivers at the celebratory breakfast. Selected through nominations by their vanpool passengers, the honorees were lauded for everything from years of service and safe-driving practices to intelligence and good humor as they collectively traverse more than 12,000 miles a day and 3.2 million miles every year.

Menton, who was new in the department when she was called upon to help launch the vanpool program in 1984, recalled of Goodwin, “Mike, the lone driver from Canyon Country, worked from 6:30 to 3:30. Nobody else (who wanted to be in that van) worked that schedule, so we didn’t think we could get a vanpool started. Mike was great to say, ‘You know what? If those passengers are willing to come in a little earlier, I’ll stay 'til 4:30 to drive them home.’ So Mike would stay late. We got great testimonials from his passengers about what a great service that was.”

The program, Menton added, “has been the catalyst behind many of our offspring programs, such as subsidized public transit, commuter buses, carpooling and biking,” which have proven very successful in reducing traffic and promoting more economical, healthy and environmentally-friendly transportation options.

A report released last August on the Clean Air Commuter Survey, an annual project by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, noted that while 70 percent of commuters in L.A. County drive in their cars alone, only 51 percent of UCLA employees do so. That's a difference of hundreds of thousands of annual car trips at UCLA. The survey also found that for the first time in UCLA history, more commuting students walk to campus than drive. Nearly 75 percent of students are alternative commuters. And the number of car trips in and out of UCLA has declined steadily since 2003, and is lower now than it was in 1990.

The program’s growth can also be credited to what Menton called a “whole little vanpool culture.”

Goodwin’s vanpool, he noted, has “a couple of people from Facilities, people from the Semel Institute, a manager from the Southern Regional Library, a coordinator from organ transplants at the hospital.” Between the 4:55-to-6:00 a.m. trip to campus each morning and the 3:35-to-5-ish drive home, “You hear the stories going back and forth. You learn things,” he said.

There’s fun to be had, too. “We’ve had birthday parties and retirement parties. One of the guys was having a baby, so we took up a collection and got him a car seat.”

Thirty years after driving that first blue van, Goodwin said that he never saw the vanpool growing this big. “When it first started, I had a lot of people come and ask me about it. People would stop you on the road, wanting to know if they could ride the van, too.”

This article first appeared in UCLA Newsroom.