Friday, June 4, 2010

What’s So Cool About Vanpool?

Community Transit Vanpool #465 folded last week, after five years (at least – we don’t remember exactly) of carrying commuters from Marysville to the south Everett industrial area. The van was started by a Community Transit employee who wanted to save miles on her new car. Her schedule eventually changed and she left the van, but the group continued with a hodge-podge of Boeing workers, SNBL staff, Northshore Christian Academy teachers (and even the principal for awhile!), an Agilent engineer who vanpooled when he wasn’t teleworking, a Snohomish PUD guy we picked up in Everett and dropped off 3 miles later and me, a part-time rider who used the van on rainy, snowy or just plain slow days instead of biking and busing.

We hope to bring the van back next fall, when summer vacations are over. Meanwhile, the Community Transit’s Vanpool Department is constantly at work keeping existing vans on the road and helping new vans form. In 2009, Community Transit ended the year with 334 vans on the road and record ridership .

According to a Washington State Department of Transportation survey , 85% of vanpoolers say the main reason they share the ride is because it saves them money. A secondary reason is that vanpooling is less stressful than driving .

I can personally attest to the many benefits, which also include book and restaurant reviews, occasional reroutes for coffee and getting to know your neighbors and co-workers. Vanpool groups set their own hours and stops, and depending on the participants can be flexible enough to wait 5 minutes when you’re running late or give your kid a ride as well (if they sign a vanpool user agreement and wear their seatbelt!).

The Puget Sound region is a hotbed of vanpooling in the U.S. King County Metro Transit has the country’s largest vanpool program, and Community Transit has been fourth, behind the much larger metro areas of Chicago and Houston.

Vanpooling is popular here because we have people and worksites spread all over the place. Popular vanpool destinations include Boeing (in Everett, Auburn), Costco (Issaquah headquarters), Seattle Children’s Hospital and Microsoft . See a list of all Community Transit vans on the road here.

It doesn’t hurt that HOV lanes often give vanpools and carpools a bonus in travel time, or that they get priority loading on Washington State Ferries. Some employers give primo parking and subsidies to vanpoolers. And, for people who want to save money and the planet, vehicles with five people in them are the most fuel-efficient, cost-effective and greenhouse-gas saving commute possible. A vehicle with five people = vanpool.

What’s cool about your vanpool? Share your story here.

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