James Davenport Transportion (Past, Present and Future)

29Aug/20Off

Past, Present and Future of Vanpools

Most likely, commuters are not thinking about starting vanpools these days.  Given the social distancing requirements and the precautions that need to be followed, it is more of a challenge to start and/or maintain a vanpool during the COVID-19 Pandemic. But as businesses are beginning to open and may attempt to bring back their employees to pre-COVID occupancy  for the beginning of next year, it may be something to think about as highway congestion becomes an issue again. Vanpools are still an effective option to address that issue.

First, what is a vanpool? It is a group of individuals, usually seven to fifteen, who have joined to ride to and from work in the same vehicle. Normally it is a non-profit entity in which some members volunteer 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 shares both the commuting expenses and the convenience of riding to work together. 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.

Credit: shuttlemenc.com

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. In this instance, large companies put together company vanpools to provide transportation for 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.

Today, these shuttles are not considered vanpools. But I will not get into those technicalities at this point. It is safe to say that these shuttles played a big role in the establishment of the vanpools as a viable and economic commuter option that we see today.

Through research, I found that 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; therefore, 3M purchased more vans after only three months.

Before COVID-19, successful vanpool programs were running throughout the country. For instance, King County Metro’s program has nearly 1500 vans running in the city of Seattle, WA 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 had grown since then.   So far in 2018, there are more than 1600 vans with over 10,000 commuters participating in the program.

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

Again, that is before COVID-19. Many of those vanpools are not operating currently and their future is uncertain. And it is hard to say how vanpooling will be affected as commuters start going back to the office and social distancing requirements are eased. I can only say that as congestion on our nation’s highways become a challenge to commuters, it will be important for commuters to again consider vanpooling as a viable commuter option.

In addition, do not forget to consider the financial incentives to help stave off costs of starting and maintaining a vanpool. These incentives may still be available as 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. It never hurts to check through the commuter assistance programs within your local/state government or regional entity. Also, speak with your employer to see what still may be available to you.

Credit: http://040ab1e.netsolhost.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/traffic1-1.jpg

Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Trackbacks are disabled.