Vanpooling is like carpooling, except with more people and, usually, government subsidies. Vanpools typically include 5 to 15 riders who commute regularly from homes in one area (or a single meeting location such as a park and ride) to workplaces in another area.
Metro has estimated that people who drive alone to work can cut their commute costs by 75 percent by switching to a vanpool. Commute costs per vanpooler, including fuel, were estimated at $60 to $95 a month for a 30-mile round trip, compared to $266 by car.
How to join a vanpool
See also "how to start a vanpool" at Metro.
Finding an existing vanpool
Many vanpools are looking for more recruits. See if you can join them by visiting the ride-matching websites of your local vanpool providers, and also check Carpool Match NW, a regional ride-sharing database. An improved, regional ride-sharing site, RideShareOnline.com, is expected to come to the Portland area in 2011.
See also Metro's list of standing vanpools.
Starting a new vanpool
To qualify for tax benefits, a vanpool requires at least five riders. A few more is good, to be safe. Your human resources department may be able to help track down other workers who live in your area.
Contact your local vanpool providers. If your trip involves Clark County, the cheapest option is probably C-Tran. If not, the cheapest option is probably one of the companies subsidized by Metro, VPSI or Enterprise Rideshare.
Five tips for starting a vanpool
- Recruit a champion. Groups like these are best organized by one person who becomes the clear point of communication for everyone. Get someone to play this role, at least for a while.
- Look next door. Too many would-be vanpoolers give up because they can't find enough suitable ride-sharers in their company. Walk to nearby workplaces to look for recruits.
- Bring the bosses on board. One change to one vanpooler's working hours can sink a vanpool. Before the vanpool starts, explain this to everybody's supervisor, so they'll be more sympathetic if something comes up.
- Meet halfway. Consider arranging to meet at a park and ride or other free parking lot rather than sending the vanpool to everyone's door. This makes it easier to bring people in from a variety of distances.
- Steer clear of the flakes. One person who is persistently late can ruin a vanpool for everyone. Draw a hard line on departure times.
Local vanpool providers
In the Portland area, four vanpool services compete for riders, government contracts and employer affiliations:
- VPSI - website - ride-matching website
- Rideshare, a division of wikipedia:Enterprise Rent-a-Car - website - ride-matching website
- EcoShuttle - website
- C-Tran's in-house vanpool service, available only for rides that somehow involve Clark County - website
Subsidies for vanpooling
Because vanpools tend to appeal to wealthier people than other sorts of mass transit, they are especially effective at getting cars off the road. Governments have responded with generous subsidies for people and employers who create vanpools.
In Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties
Metro subsidizes half the cost of van rentals, not including gas, for vanpools. It also offers employers a free emergency ride home program. To qualify for the subsidy, a vanpool must:
- travel to a destination in the Portland metropolitan area, not including Clark County
- originate at least 10 miles from the destination or travel through a congested corridor
- use one of the Metro VanPool providers; as of 2010, that's VPSI and Enterprise Rideshare
- maintain a minimum of five participants, including the driver, three or more days a week.
In Clark County
C-Tran directly subsidizes its in-house vanpool program by charging below-market rates for the service.
Ups and downs of vanpooling
Unlike bus or train commuters, vanpool riders usually work together and may already know each other. Because they usually ride together daily, vanpool riders become friendly with each other.
Because vanpools usually don't form until they have at least five members, and disband if they ever fall below five, vanpools tend to be extremely efficient per rider. In 2010, a study by the Federal Transit Administration found that vanpools were the greenest of all motorized transportation, with an average-occupancy vanpool producing less carbon dioxide per passenger-mile than any other mode.
Because vanpool drivers are typically unpaid, vanpools also tend to be cheaper to operate per passenger-mile driven, even though the vehicles sit idle for most of the day.
Also, becase the vans carry 5 to 15 people, only one in 5 to 15 people needs to be able to drive, so it can help transport many people who are not able to drive.
Vanpooling requires many people who work relatively similar shifts. This is not possible within many companies.
Getting to work without a car makes it harder to run errands at lunch or while at work. Some employers address this with emergency ride home programs. Sometimes vanpool companies let their riders borrow the van for midday errands.
Unlike TriMet, Portland vanpools don't offer extra discounts for seniors, teens or people with disabilities.
Rewards for vanpool referrals
As of August 2010, VPSI offers $200 rewards to people who successfully refer new groups of people to form VPSI vanpools.