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Could a Vanpool Work for You?

Are you finding your commutes to work  getting more and more stressful?  Are the commutes taking longer and longer, especially during times of construction? It pays, literally, to consider commuter options beyond the Single-Occupied-Vehicle or SOV. An option that should get serious consideration is the setting up of a new vanpool for you and your fellow employees/close neighbors. They are becoming more and more feasible to set-up and vanpool services may be more available than you realize.

First of all, what is a vanpool? It is a group of individuals, usually seven to fifteen, who have joined together to ride to and from work in the same vehicle. Normally it is a non-profit entity in which one of the members volunteers to drive and the others share in the cost of operating the van, including any cost of owning or leasing the van. The whole group enjoys the economy of sharing their commuting expenses and the convenience of sharing the ride to work. Another alternative is a for-profit vanpool where a fare is charged by the owner or operator, who retains the profits from the excess of revenues over expenses.

The history behind vanpools goes back much further than I thought. Though some of you may not be so surprised, if you remember the so-called company towns in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the fact that some large companies put together company vanpools to provide transportation to their workers every day. Today, you may hear these called employer shuttles. Btw: in a company town, practically all stores and housing are owned by the one company that is also the main employer.

In 1973, the 3M company saw an opportunity in providing a high-capacity commuter vehicle for suburban employees. In other words, higher than a capacity of one. As part of a pilot project, 3M purchased 6 vans and designed vanpools with eight riders with fares covering all expenses for the vanpool. The program was successful and 3M purchased more vans after only three months.

You can click here to read more about the history.

Today, successful vanpool programs are running throughout the country. For instance, the City of Seattle has been very successful in promoting vanpooling. King County’s Metro program has nearly 1500 vans running in the city and throughout King County, according to 2016 data from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This makes it the largest public vanpool operation in the nation. Metro reported that the number has grown since then.   So far in 2018, there are more than 1600 vans with over 10,000 commuters participating in the program. Read more about it here.

Other successes include:

  1. Los Angeles with 1,378 vanpools,
  2. Houston with 686 vanpools, and
  3. Arlington Heights IL with 664 vanpools.

Closer to home, Woodbridge, VA had 404 vanpools in operation in 2016. According to the Vanpool Alliance, which oversees  the operations of vanpools in northern Virginia, the  number of vanpools has increased to 590 vanpools and is still growing.

Why should you consider a vanpool for your commute?  The Vanpool Alliance, again here in northern Virginia, breaks it down into five strategic reasons for considering setting up or riding in a vanpool:

Reduced Traffic Congestion  – If there are more vanpools out on the roadway, there are fewer SOVs on the road.

Reduced Cost – You may not realize it, but research has shown that with gas, parking, maintenance, tolls and insurance, driving a SOV to work is the most expensive way to get to work.

 Air Quality – Most personal vehicles emit large amounts of pollutants like nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If there are fewer vehicles on the road due to more vanpools, then there are fewer pollutants in the air.

Better Quality of Life – As I said before, driving in congested traffic can be very stressful and downright miserable, especially for those driving very long commutes. Vanpooling offers people a much more pleasant way to travel and many of the vans these days are modern and wi-fi accessible.

Benefits for Businesses – Companies whose employees vanpool to work frequently report reductions in turnover, improved employee recruitment, better on-time arrivals, decreased demand for parking and lower payroll taxes.

With all that, what will it cost? Well, that can vary depending on the distance the vanpool has to travel and the type of van. The average is right around $170/month in the Washington, DC market, where I live. However, there could be financial incentives to help stave off those costs. These incentives may be a direct subsidy to reduce the cost of fare, payments on your transit subsidy card, and gas card incentives for the operators of the van. Check through the commuter assistance programs within your local or state government, and speak with your employer to see what may be available to you. Happy riding!

 

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.

US Government Works

Just Leave It In the Past!

My grandmother used to tell me, “Some things just need to stay in the past.” As I have gotten older, I tend to agree with her.

Rolling back and weakening environmental regulations that protect human health and the environment shouldn’t become the norm; yet, over the past year, we have become bombarded with changes or threats to regulations in the name of business profits and/or potential job creation. Practices that further exacerbate health issues and pollute our environment should remain in the past. As a former facilities engineer and current business owner, I completely understand how regulations can increase operating costs for businesses. While in some cases profit margins may take a hit, health risks decrease, and the quality of life increases when we are good stewards of our environment.

US Government Works

US Government Works

Environmental protections were put in place because all businesses don’t operate with the protection of air, water, land, and people at the center of their operations. The United States of America is one of the world’s most developed nations and should be leading the pack when it comes to yielding new technologies that minimize pollution; but, for some reason, we are looking towards the past instead of the future.

Certainly, we don’t want to revisit a past where we witness places like Love Canal, which helped start the SuperFund Site program or incidents like the Cuyahoga River fire which was the catalyst for the Clean Water Act.

Over the past months, I’ve seen a number of headlines that caught my attention regarding the repeal or weakening of regulations related to asbestos, fuel economy standards, clean energy, and climate change. I could go on, but I won’t.

This is certainly not the path that we should take. I believe that we are better than this and we have to advocate for better policies while moving forward to reduce pollution, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and do our best to protect human health despite anyone enforcing us into good business. The health of our people and our precious resources have to take precedence over our profits.


Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC a community, multimodal, and environmental planning firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

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TEAM BUILDING: Anacostia River Boat Tour

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On July 26, the Nspiregreen team went on the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Anacostia Boat Tour as part of this quarter’s team building. This trip gave us a chance to see first-hand and learn more about the efforts being implemented to improve the health of the river. This was a great experience especially since we have been working on some projects related to the Anacostia River’s cleanup efforts.

The Anacostia River watershed is home to 43 species of fish, some 200 species of birds, and more than 800,000 people. The river flows through Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland and past the Capitol Building in the District. The watershed is approximately 176 square miles and around 25% of its land lies in the District of Columbia. (Source: DOEE, February 15, 2018, EPA)

The Anacostia has been polluted by litter, raw sewage, stormwater runoff, and industrial waste since the 19th Century. However, in the past two decades efforts have been implemented to turn “The Forgotten River” into a “fishable and swimmable” water body as defined by the Clean Water Act. For example, the recently opened DC Water tunnel between the RFK Stadium and the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant is preventing millions of gallons of wastewater from entering the river, thus reducing the levels of bacteria. The District’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) launched the “For a Cleaner Anacostia River” initiative aimed to clean the river sediments contaminated with industrial toxins including polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs).

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Tour Highlights

Below are some highlights of our trip!

Rain, Rain, Rain…

There was a thunderstorm the night before the tour. In fact, this past July was one of the wettest Julys on record! The day we went, the river was yellow-colored and full of broken branches and litter. However, boats were out removing these items. Here is a picture of one of DC Water’s boats cleaning up litter.skimmerboat
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Due to the high levels of precipitation, the river’s water level was really high. For this reason, we were not able to go under the Benning Rd bridge. The water was almost hitting the rail bridge! I heard the area north of this bridge has beautiful scenery and lots of wildlife. We will come back again!

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The River is Improving

The water condition is getting better; wildlife and the levels of subaquatic vegetation have increased. The tour guide also told us that they are testing the use of mussels to clean the water. Fun fact an adult mussel can naturally filter about 10 gallons of water a day!

Bird Nest

 

You Can Also Tour the Anacostia River!

If you want to tour the Anacostia, the Anacostia Watershed Society and the Anacostia Riverkeeper offer guided motorboat and canoe tours free of charge. These tours are funded by the District’s disposable bag fee program.  Tours leave from various locations.

What to bring:

  • Reusable water bottle filled with water (plastic water bottles are not allowed on the boat for environmental protection)
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat and sunglasses

 

To learn more, visit https://doee.dc.gov/service/anacostia-river-explorers

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion for urban and landscape design, she also enjoys looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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