Giving Vanpools Another Look

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Tom is director of Mobility Lab. He specializes in partnership building, the history of Arlington and the D.C. region, and creative transportation solutions related to current events.
December 12, 2011

Lessons Learned from Vanpool Boot Camp!

Relaxing in a captain’s chair reading your I-Pad while zooming up HOV lanes?

Offering open seats to friends on Facebook who might need a one-time ride with you?

Joining a vanpool at the last minute to access a location that has no other transit options?

Clearly this isn’t your father’s vanpool!

In November, Mobility Lab was pleased to host Vanpool Boot Camp at GMU Arlington.  With the help of our co-host, the local chapter of the Association of Commuter Transportation, the day gathered transportation professionals from across the DC Region to discuss strategies to better utilize vanpooling.  Boot camp participants learned from each other about a variety of attributes that make vanpools particularly beneficial as a transportation option.  In addition to new technology and rider-comfort innovations, these important benefits include traffic congestion relief and reduced environmental impact compared to single occupancy vehicles.

With housing and employment spread across hundreds of square miles, none of us needs a reminder about complex transportation patterns in a sprawling metropolis like Washington, DC.  New rail and bus service simply cannot accommodate all transit needs.  Other transportation options are required for travels to and from less densely populated areas, over long distances or between transit corridors.  With increasingly stressful commutes and rising costs to own and operate an automobile, many individuals find it difficult or impossible to drive their own car.  These obstacles to transportation are all too real for many commuters, especially some who are seeking to reenter the workforce, seek job training or medical care.

At boot camp we learned that vanpools are organic and can form quickly to fill-in gaps like these to regularly scheduled transit service.  Currently, many in our region do utilize vanpools.  Over 800 registered carpools exist in the metropolitan region, about ¾ of which originate in Virginia.  According to one of the boot camp experts, Lori Diggins of LDA Consulting, the largest number of these take advantage of HOV lanes and over ¼ of all vanpools in the region originate Spotsylvania Counties, a jurisdiction with no other transit options.  And unlike those in carpools, riders in registered vanpools can receive the federal transit subsidy.

Important state programs also assist vanpools.  “In Virginia, multiple programs offer a lifeline of support to vanpools and are recognition of their importance to the overall transportation network,” said Diana Utz, GWRideConnect Director (Fredericksburg).  “The VanStart Program provides financial support for new vanpool formations.  The program temporarily subsidizes empty seats during the start-up phase of new vanpools.  VanSave Program provides similar financial support for established vanpools that experience a sudden loss of passengers.  Virginia also offers group insurance through the AdVANtage self-insurance pool.”  Guaranteed Ride Home is another important support to vanpool riders.

New technologies have been developed allowing vanpools to pick up one-time passengers, bucking the concept that vanpools are only available for set groups that travel together.  An example is V-Ride from VPSI which allows users to quickly view available vanpools routes online and hop onboard.  An application offered by Avego allows users to limit offerings to individuals in their other social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter.  Ride payments are also made through the applications.  These and other technologies are transforming the concept of ridematching.

The day finished with a demonstration of two new vans, one from Enterprise Leasing and one from VPSI.  Although neither on display featured captain chairs, according to VPSI’s Rico Fleshman “we do get many requests for vans with these extra comforts.”  Certainly we can all agree that riding in a big comfy chair sounds like a great way to get around the metropolis!

Armed with the wealth of information from Vanpool Boot Camp, participants hope to build on the number of vanpools crossing our region.  We all know that transportation is not a one option fits all game, but what we learned at boot camp is that vanpooling is an essential option for many.

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