The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Van Pooling cuts congestion and pollution

VanPool cruising on road to success

Riders swap stories, cut pollution, traffic

Monday, March 27, 2000

By CHRIS McGANN Mail author

SEATTLE -- Speeding down the car-pool lane past miles of stop-and-go morning traffic, six members of Jennifer Ricketts' VanPool tick off reasons for choosing King County's commuter van service.

If you guessed they share the ride to cut down on their commute time or to avoid fighting for parking spaces, you'd be only partly right.

"It gives me something to tell my wife when I get home," said software engineer Eric Hanson, 33.

Hanson uses the 25-minute commute to catch up on his technical reading but relies on fellow rider, Jodi Payne, to liven up his routine with "bizarre stories."

"I had to relocate a woman's frozen embryos once," said Payne, who coordinates Microsoft's company relocation program.

Payne said sharing stories is a mandatory part of belonging to this mini-division of King County Metro's VanPool, a program that began 20 years ago and has grown into the largest publicly owned van pool program in the United States.

Ricketts said commuting by van pool is not always faster than driving because of stops to pick up members of the group. But saving time is not her main motivation. "I do it to reduce pollution and (the number of) cars on the road," she said.

In that respect and others, the VanPool program is a Metro success story. More than 705 Metro van pools serving nine counties reduce traffic by 11,124 vehicle trips per day, said Cathy Blumenthal, Metro's Rideshare coordinator. On average, a single van pool means 5.4 fewer tons of air pollution and 8,000 gallons of gasoline saved each year.

The VanPool program also provides transportation for people who live outside Metro's regular service areas. It supplies regular transportation to Seattle for people from as far away as Port Townsend, Mount Vernon and Olympia.

Four-wheel-drive vans cross Snoqualmie Pass five days a weekto bring commuters from Cle Elum into Seattle.

And unlike Metro's other heavily subsidized programs, VanPool pays for itself. Revenue from riders and companies that pay employee fares pay for the vans themselves.

Costs range from $26 to $157 per person, depending on van size, trip distance and riders in the pool. Vans hold eight, 12 or 15 riders.

Many companies pay for van pools to help meet commute-trip-reduction requirements, as employment incentives and to be environmentally responsible.

Microsoft, for example, financed Ricketts' eight-person van pool, one of at least 30 for its employees.

Microsoft spokesman Dan Leach said the company encourages everyone on its campus to use buses, bicycles, car pools and van pools. The company provides bus passes, matches commuters for rideshares on its corporate intranet and subsidizes employees who use van pools for at least three round trips per week.

About 28 percent of Microsoft employees use some alternative form of transportation to get to work, Leach said.

"That's how we can work as a community to deal with our success. We all need to work together to figure out what's best for the region, to reduce congestion and the environmental impact on the area," Leach said. "Every company has a responsibility to do that, and we want to do our part."

But employers' reasons vary as much as van poolers.

United Rental in Tukwila pays about $700 per month to a van pool to help six employees commute from Monroe, branch manager Jerry O'Neill said.

O'Neill said the company decided to pay for the service to entice quality employees to stay with United after it consolidated a Woodinville branch.

"It works out well because I can keep very experienced people with us," O'Neill said. "There was a certain amount of obligation to cover their costs of coming down here."

But United Rental has no immediate plans to expand its program.

"It's not a small fee," O'Neill said. "It's not something that we are likely to consider in other cases, because of the expense."

Employees from Puget Sound companies, including The Boeing Co., U S West, Siemens, Costco and many others, use van pools as a regular way to get to work.

Tom Sewell, a 40-year-old software engineer, said his big incentive is the ride home. His pool's 4:30 p.m. departure from Redmond gets him out the door on time so he can spend more time with his wife and daughters Allysa, 2, and 4-month-old Emma.

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