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Why Vanpool? Why not?

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.

drawing of vanReduce Costs

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.

Less delay

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.

Reduces stress

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!

More convenient

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.

More interaction

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.

Reduce congestion

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:

  1. Check with your employer to see if a vanpool program has already been set-up.
  2. Also check with your employer on what type/if any transit subsidy is being offered by your company
  3. Contact your local transportation Department and see if they have a commuter assistance program. If they don’t, contact your regional planning agency
  4. Submit your name to the various agencies that are available for administering vanpool programs.
  5. 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.
  6. Once seven or more people are identified for the vanpool, the agency will match the group with an appropriate vendor.
  7. 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:

RideshareOnline.com managed by the Washington State Department of Transportation

TeamRideFinders in Central Virginia

San Luis Obispo Rideshare

Commute with Enterprise

Vanpool Alliance in Woodbridge, VA

VanGo in Colorado State University

Job Links EmploymentTransportation Center

Vanpool Advantages

Commuter Connection in Washington DC

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.

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Imagine a Day Without Water

 

Imagine a day without water.

 

Just imagine. Without water, how can you perform the daily routines in your life such as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, using the toilet, cooking, cleaning, drinking, or washing clothes and dishes. What about water usage in communities for public use like restaurants, parks, hospitals, car washes, or in relation to farming and firefighting? Believe me I thought about it, but it’s kind of hard to fathom. The average person uses about 101.5 gallons of water per day. Many Americans tend to take water for granted while many communities around the country have already experienced a day without water.

 

Water Use 1

 

Water Use 2Philadelphia Water Department

Clean water is one of the key components to an adequate quality of life. Unfortunately, proper water access is inequitable in terms of geography and cost. There are over 1.6 million people in the United States that are affected by water insecurity with a lack of complete plumbing facilities. That figure does not include the millions of people accessing unsafe tap water despite the benefits of modern plumbing. Imagine being homeless with no access to water, or being part of a family that either can’t afford water bills or has such shoddy water infrastructure, water insecurity would be your daily reality.

We are facing a bigger challenge than most people think or want to admit. When we think of water, we think of this infinite supply that is a gift of nature to mankind. If nearly 70% of the earth’s surface is made up of water then what is the problem? Why is there an on-going push for awareness to conserve water? Well, out of the 70 percent figure just mentioned, less than 1% of that total is actually freshwater suitable for human consumption and usage. When considering the threats to this precious 1 percent of fresh water, such as population growth, climate change (increase in natural disasters, drought, flooding, and wildfire), outdated infrastructure, and pollutants from impervious surfaces, and many other threats not listed here, one can only conclude that this will lead to increased costs for environmental remediation, health hazards, food shortages, and other unforeseen issues.

There is an ongoing nationwide movement by the Value of Water Campaign to spread awareness about threats to clean water and infrastructures. Imagine a Day Without Water takes place on October 10, 2018 for its fourth annual day to raise awareness and educate America about the value of water. Anyone is able to participate! Environmental organizations, water and wastewater providers, public officials, business leaders, labor leaders, community based organizations, schools, engineers, and others are encouraged to be a part of this national education campaign to engage stakeholders, public officials, and the general public.  You can find examples of ways to participate here.

Here are a few tips on how you can conserve water throughout your day:

 

Brushing your teeth. Don’t keep the faucet running.

 

Showering. When running the faucet while you’re waiting for the water to warm,  place a container underneath the faucet to collect the cold water. Use the collected water to water your plants and lawn. Also, decrease the duration of your showers. You can purchase a shower timer to encourage shortened showers of 4 to 5 minutes.

 

Flushing the toilet. With every flush, older toilets can use from 3 to 7 gallons of water. Newer toilets reduced this amount to 1.6 gallons of water. Place a water bottle in the tank to reduce the amount of water needed to fill it. There’s also a tool called the Tank Bank which clips onto the side of the tank and displaces about 0.8 gallons of water with every flush.

 

Shaving. Fill the bottom of the sink with minimal water and use the water to clean your razor.

 

Cooking. Don’t let your faucet run while you’re cooking. Wash vegetables and fruits in a large bowl filled with water instead of using the faucet. Boil food in as a little water as possible.

 

Washing dishes/clothes. Wait for a full load to wash your dishes in the dish washer or your clothes in the washer machine. Consider a front-end loader washing machine to not only reduce water consumption, but water utility bills. The upfront higher costs will pay for itself after a few short months.

 

Your efforts can go beyond Imagine a Day Without Water. We should strive to become more conscious of our water consumption and become advocates for this precious supply that is essential to life. If we continue with our current trends then eventually there will be far more than 1.6 million people that won’t be imagining a day without water but living days without water.

 

Jazmin Kimble is an Urban Planner, Urban Designer, and Architectural Designer from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

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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.





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