A new vanpooling program, set to launch sometime next year for Central Virginians, aims to provide an alternative transit method for employees who live 20 or more miles from their job.
Like the term suggests, vanpooling is carpooling but with a larger vehicle to hold more people. The service could reduce the amount of cars on the road and provide an economic benefit to those who use the service, according to Kelly Hitchcock, planning and development director and RIDESolutions Coordinator for CVPDC.
“Some people would rather sit in a van with five other people going to the same place and can read emails and tweet along the way,” she said. “It creates a reduction of wear and tear on cars.”
In September, the Central Virginia Planning District Commission (CVPDC) received a $72,000 mobility grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) for a vanpool program for employees in the region who live farther than 20 miles from their work. DRPT provided 80% of the grant while CVPDC provides the other 20% — $18,000 over the next two years. The commission represents the city of Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell on regional initiatives, community development and transportation.
DRPT’s mission is to improve the mobility of citizens in Virginia. One way the organization seeks to do that is to provide grant funding for programs and services such as transit, commuter assistance programs, carpool formation, and vanpooling.
“We know there is a lot of vanpooling in the I-95 corridor, but we are also looking at other corridors where there is potential to increase vanpooling,” said Christopher Arabia, manager of statewide mobility programs for DRPT. “There hasn’t been a lot of promotion of or assistance forming vanpools in the Lynchburg area. We believe the grant to CVPDC can provide the assistance and promotion needed to form new vanpools and attract new vanpool riders.”
The vanpool program is a part of CVPDC’s RIDESolutions, a regional alternative transportation program that offers grant-funded alternative transportation services such as carpool matching, vanpools, biking, transit and a Guaranteed Ride Home program to expand commuter options throughout the CVPDC and the larger southwestern Virginia region.
Hitchcock said anyone can be in a vanpool as long as their employer provides a driver to pick up employees and takes them to work.
Vanpools help with congestion and reduce miles on vehicles, but Hitchcock said more importantly, the need in the area is access to jobs for employees and employers.
She anticipates the program launching in the beginning of next year. In the coming few months, CVPDC is working to iron out the details of how it will work and to sign employers up.
Hitchcock said CVPDC will work with employers in the area to bring employees together who can use the vanpool who are all going to the same area.
Hitchcock said neither CVPDC nor partnering businesses are actually purchasing the vans. Instead, they will rent them through companies such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The grant helps to pay for fees associated with the rental of the van.
Megan Lucas, CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, said vanpool services can be a valuable resource for a region like Central Virginia.
“They can reduce employee costs and stress on commuters while cutting down on congestion for high traffic areas if highly utilized,” she said. “They are especially helpful to a workforce that may have limited public transit options. Having a vanpool option available to employees and companies can prove to be an impactful asset to our region.”
From the more than 50 business retention and expansion visits the Alliance has done with companies in the region, she said she knows vanpooling would be a benefit.
“Our region is home to companies that have shift work, and although we have a strong transit system in the region, it cannot meet all the needs of some of their employees trying to get to and from work,” she said. “The vanpool provides a viable service: access to employment in the absence of other viable options.”
Reach Rachael Smith at (434) 385-5482.
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.