Miriam Gholikely Public Service Award:
Roger Matoba’s IchiVan Lives Up to “Number One Ride”
Roger Matoba not only drove a successful vanpool for 29 years, he created a sense of fun and camaraderie among his riders with holiday music and birthday celebrations. (Photo: Noah Berger)
When Roger Matoba decided to name his vanpool vehicle, he created a play on the Japanese word Ichiban, meaning Number One. The “IchiVan” has proved to be just that with its riders for the past three decades.
One could say Matoba has been extraordinary for driving over 100 carpoolers to work from various public locations in the Martinez/Pleasant Hill area to San Francisco for 29 years. He drove an estimated half million miles and went through four “IchiVans” before retiring earlier this year. But in the hearts of IchiVan’s riders, it was more than just a safe and convenient ride.
Rider Renee Samii commented, “We were like family or a military platoon ... leave no man/woman behind.” According to rider Brian Forzani, “Roger is a great vanpool driver and a true gentleman.”
And former IchiVan rider Jessica Waters stated, “I was very sad when I moved and had to leave my ... fun way home. I am still searching for another vanpool, (but) I’m sure I will never find another one like Roger’s van.”
So what created this family? Roger himself was the key.
Matoba ran his van every work day and kept the fees (for gas, bridge tolls and van maintenance) below BART ticket prices. Even when sick, he made sure one of the other riders drove the van for that day. While the maximum number of van riders was 15, Matoba put comfort first by keeping the average at about 12. “People like to spread out, and as we all got older, the seat space seemed to diminish, so I kept the ridership down a little bit,” he explained. As the van owner, Matoba also installed special overhead lights for reading. And he picked up or dropped off riders at home if it was raining, waited if someone was late, or adjusted his route to help a rider with a special need.
Roger created a birthday party policy. Any rider who supplied a meal in celebration of his or her birthday rode free for a month. The rolling party and singing of “Happy Birthday” created a spirit of fun during the ride. In addition, Matoba played holiday music in the van from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. With this camaraderie, the riders couldn’t help but feel more like a family than mere commute acquaintances.
Surprised that his riders nominated him for an MTC award, Roger responded, “I was not expecting it ... not at all.” It’s that humbleness and his caring that makes Matoba the perfect candidate for MTC’s Miriam Gholikely Service Award, which is named for a long-serving Bay Area transportation advisor and given in recognition of transportation community service. And in this spirit, Matoba donated the last IchiVan (with nearly 180,000 miles on it) to the Make a Wish Foundation.
— Pam Grove
Transactions Fall 2012 Issue: Contents