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.

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16Aug/20Off

There is no Going Back to the “Old Normal”

There is no Going Back to the “Old Normal”

You may have heard or even said “we are living in some strange times.” Many of us are waiting for everything to go “back to normal”. I don’t believe there is a “going back to the way things were.” History has shown us that during major catastrophic events such as pandemics, wars, and economic challenges, life never returns to the way it was.  And one change I see is that telework will become more of a normal business operation.

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Before the Covid-19 Pandemic, we as Transportation Demand Management Outreach Coordinators were promoting ridesharing (Carpools, Vanpools, Buses, etc.) over driving to help reduce congestion on our clogged roads and highways. We had some successes as people realized they could save time and money.

Then Coronavirus hit and the message became quite different. With the safe distancing precautions in place, we were not promoting ridesharing anymore. In fact, since the stay at home orders went into effect, very few people were able to go to their office anyway. I can’t say first-hand since I am working remotely 5 days/week right now, but traffic volumes on many of the nation’s highways have dropped considerably. Goes to show you how effective telework can be in reducing traffic congestion.

But, even in the DC area where a good number of workers already worked remotely before Covid-19 (heavily influenced by the federal work force), many companies refused to allow telework for various reasons, including security. But companies, that were once resistant to telework,  were forced to put infrastructure in place to allow their employees to telework and eventually develop a company-based telework policy. Even businesses/entities you would not think would ever implement telework (such as K-12 schools, medical professionals, and security firms) now see telework as a viable option. I am not saying “no one will ever work in their office again.” But I predict, the number of workers who telework will be higher that pre-pandemic levels. Companies that were resistant before, have bought in. Now, the Genie is out of the bottle.

Credit: Robin Mack - Telework!Va

We all know the benefits of telework such as continuation of operations and improvement of retention and recruitment. And it is hard to argue against those. However, my favorite argument for the future of telework is taken from a slide of a colleague’s presentation on telework which shows the improvement of Air Quality in Los Angeles. You know what they say, “A pictures Paints a Thousand Words.”

Of course, I can only speculate. If anyone has a crystal ball, let me know. I would like to see what the future holds for us. But until that happens, we will keep doing the best we can in the current situation. And if telework becomes more the normal than the exception in our upcoming future, I think that is a good thing.

 

1Jun/20Off

Hospital Workers Catch a Ride in DC

 

We are living in some crazy times. Before the Covid-19 Pandemic, along with other TDM Outreach Coordinators, I was promoting ride-sharing through incentives and marketing to help reduce congestion on our clogged roads. We encouraged drivers to consider ridesharing (Carpools, Vanpools, Buses, etc.) over driving alone because it can save drivers’ time and money as well as help make their daily commute a little more enjoyable….or less stressful.

Then Coronavirus hit the DC region, as well as the entire country, and the message became quite a bit different. With the safe distancing precautions in place, we couldn’t promote ride-sharing anymore. So the focus has been on telework and many companies are pursuing telework out of necessity.

From a transportation perspective, things would appear to be alright right now. Gas prices are low and congestion on our roads is somewhat manageable. Well, that may not be the case for everyone.

There are many who still have to go to work away from their homes and access to transportation may be more problematic during these times. These essential workers are the grocery store stockers, baggers and cashiers; delivery drivers; maintenance workers and janitors; trash collectors, etc. There are many such hardworking and dedicated individuals who are doing their jobs far from the safety of their home and with little recognition.

Which leads me to the tireless medical professionals. They can’t telework and care for patients at a hospital or a clinic. The new transportation situation is a challenges to them as well, especially those who work the night shifts and may not have regular access to a car. What is being done for them?

I must commend the District Government for transforming a transportation service that had been shut-down due to Covid-19 and operated somewhat similarly to Uber or Lyft. Now this service is provided exclusively for hospital workers at Howard University Hospital and United Medical Center. I pulled some information on this service from the District Department of For-Hire Vehicles (DPHV) website.

The cost per ride is $3, and service runs between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. To use the service, hospital workers must download the D.C. Neighborhood Connect app. The app, powered by the ride-share company Via, directs users to a location where they are picked up by one of 11 vans in the system. To maintain social distancing only three passengers are allowed on each vehicle.

The service aims to fill a gap in public transportation options after dark. While public transit during the evening and overnight hours was somewhat problematic before, it is almost nonexistent now. This is due to the fact that Metro and local bus systems have significantly scaled back service during the coronavirus pandemic.

Another beneficial aspect behind this service is that it has been expanded to take passengers anywhere in the District as well as to places in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. DPHV administers the program in partnership with Via and taxi operator Transco and it will remain in place throughout the coronavirus pandemic

So these are times which some may consider rather dark and depressing because we are fighting a pervasive and dangerous virus and many may have lost friends, family members and others important to them. But when we do see gestures of good will on our TVs, computers or experience it first-hand, this may invariably brighten our day.

But I bet you didn’t expect to see good will from a transportation perspective. Well, it can come from all corners and from where you least expect it.

So everybody, please be safe and considerate of others. Together, we can get through this.

Hospital Riders Catch a Ride in DC.