Thursday, September 8, 2011

Van GO: Spreading the wealth

Community Transit just launched its latest round of the Van GO van grant program. This year, up to 10 eight-passenger Chevy Astro vans that are being surplussed from the agency's vanpool fleet will be awarded to nonprofit agencies in Snohomish County.

The Van GO program started in 2000 after passage of Initiative 695 led to the State Legislature eliminating motor vehicle excise tax (car tab) funding for transit. Community Transit lost a third of its funding and had to cut service and lay off hundreds of employees.

The notion of Van GO was to grant surplus vehicles to groups that could use them to help offset the transportation trips in the community that had been lost by the service cuts. Since then, 96 vehicles have been granted under this program. Sometimes there are surplus mini-buses awarded (former DART vehicles like the one pictured), but not this year.

If you wonder why I keep using the term "granted" it's because a public agency cannot simply give away equipment. These surplus vehicles are awarded through a competitive process and the winners must in turn use them to provide a specified number of trips the following year. When these surplus vans go to auction, as is the standard practice for surplus items, they net about $1,500-2,500. Not all surplus vehicles go to Van GO; most Community Transit vehicles are put up for auction to help recover our public investment, per state law.

From now through Oct. 31, nonprofits in Snohomish County can apply for one of these vans. Eligibility requirements and the application are available online. One thing that has worked well in recent years for applicants is partnering with another agency. For instance, some social service agencies have partnered with churches to ensure the van is used seven days a week. The number of trips an applicant says they will provide counts for 20 percent of the grant request.

If you know someone at an agency that can use these vans, or you can think of a good use at an organization you belong to, check it out. A pre-application workshop for interested groups will take place at 11 a.m. Sept. 29 at Community Transit. Send a note to vango @ for more information.

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