Some of you may have heard how vanpools are a great way to commute to work. But when you consider options for commuting to work other than driving alone, vanpools may not come to mind. At first brush, you might consider bus, train, carpool or even biking or walking.
I’ll say to you that Vanpools are a viable option for commuting. Below I discuss the benefits of vanpooling including: cost reduction, stress relief and convenience. Also, I will provide some basic steps in starting a vanpool.
Everyone is interested in reducing the cost of one’s commute. Research has shown that riding in a vanpool can save you 40-75% of the cost of driving your own car. By eliminating the solo commute to work each day, a vanpooler saves money on gas, maintenance, insurance, oil and tires.
And don’t forget that vanpools can save the wear and tear on your own car. Vanpools may further save you money on fewer car repairs and reduce the likelihood of needing to purchase another car in the immediate future.
Vanpools can use the High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lanes which will save time during your commute and they can use High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes without having to pay a toll. Additionally, when you let someone else drive to and from work, you can use the free time to work (Many vans provide Wi-Fi.), sleep, read, or simply relax. Plus, your employer may offer a special parking location for your vanpool.
Then there is the stress factor. This is especially the case in heavily metropolitan areas where the pressure to get ahead to support your family and your livelihood can stress you out. What could be better than making your commute to work much less stressful so you are refreshed and ready to tackle your day when you get there? Ask any vanpool user and they will tell you that the time they spend on their commute both to work and home, is so much more relaxing.
Helps our environment
Of interest to our future generations, and to us too, are the benefits to the environment. An average commute of 50 round-trip miles in a 15-passenger van takes 14 cars of the road and eliminates the emission of over 40 pounds of pollutants into the air, each day. Oh, I can breathe again!
It is no secret that vanpools can be flexible and convenient. Some vanpool arrangements allow commuters to be picked up at their home, while others may pick-up and drop-off commuters at Park’n’Ride lots allowing the commuters to run errands after work.
Many in urban and suburban environments suffer from the feeling of loneliness and isolation. Being in a vanpool can help you get to know your neighbors and co-workers. More and more stories can be shared the longer the vanpool group has been together. Great way to share both your happy moments and your sad moments.
But important to me is how vanpools reduce congestion on our nations’ roads. Basic math tells you that when you add more vanpools on the road, the number of cars on the road decrease exponentially. Fewer cars on the road means less congestion and less time a commuter has to sit in his or her car. This could be the advantage vanpools have over carpools.
I came across an interesting analysis, from Seattle Washington, of how effective vanpools can be in reducing congestion. If you have 100 commuters and 50 of them drive alone and 50 drive in two people carpools, there are 25 less cars on the road than if all 100 commuters drove alone.
Now move all those carpoolers into five-person vanpools. There are still 50 people driving alone, so the drive-alone rate remains at 50 percent. But instead of 75 cars on the road, now there are only 60. With five people per van, the vanpools have freed up a significant amount of road space, although it may not show up in the stats.
So now I have convinced you to consider vanpools, now how does one go about finding out more about vanpools. Well, it could work this way:
- Check with your employer to see if a vanpool program has already been set-up.
- Also check with your employer on what type/if any transit subsidy is being offered by your company
- Contact your local transportation Department and see if they have a commuter assistance program. If they don’t, contact your regional planning agency
- Submit your name to the various agencies that are available for administering vanpool programs.
- Inquire if a commute-criteria could be run to help identify other vanpool prospects. Some agencies may have the capability as well as some of the private vanpool providers such as Enterprise.
- Once seven or more people are identified for the vanpool, the agency will match the group with an appropriate vendor.
- Work with local agency to apply for Van Start/Van Save funding administered through your state.
So, what’s stopping you now? Talk to your neighbors and co-workers and set up a vanpool. To no surprise, the hardest part in moving forward on something like this are the first steps. But once you find the people to share a van and you know the costs and financial incentives that are available, the whole process can move forward quickly. When you are riding in your vanpool, you will wonder why you waited so long.
Here are some resources you may want to use to get the ball rolling, or the van rolling:
James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.