The eight-to-five is hard enough without having to contend with challenging traffic. Sometimes the trip to and from work can seem like a job in and of itself. Odds are if you’re commuting in either direction on I-5, you have known the joy that is sitting parked on the freeway after a full day. For those who have to pay for parking, the stress of travel is compounded with the added inconvenience of costly parking fees once they reach their destination. And that doesn’t even address the cost of filling up your gas tank every few days.

Headaches like these are among the many reasons that thousands of commuters look to mass transit solutions to make their work days a little more manageable. Pierce Transit’s expanding bus routes are one alternative, but for those who carpool—or have been thinking of taking part in one—there’s another great way to get around. Pierce Transit’s vanpool and vanshare programs save riders time, money and frustration during work-week travel, and the agency has dozens of vans ready to assign to new groups.

JBLM Vanpool Group
Vanpools go to many employers around our community, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.

Pierce Transit started its vanpool program in 1986 with just seven vans, and today is equipped with a fleet of more than 350 comfortable 12- and 15-passenger vans, as well as a handful of road-ready seven-passenger minivans. Every vanpool group, which typically consists of 5 to 15 people, elects a primary driver, backup driver and bookkeeper, and these individuals are in charge of getting everyone on board. Passengers meet every day at a designated place and are shuttled to a common destination.

But vanpooling isn’t the only option. There’s also something called vanshare. Designed for the first and last leg of your trip, vanshare is just the ticket for commuters who take the bus or train most of the way to work. Vanshare works like vanpool, but with a significant difference: Vanshare serves groups that travel 20 or fewer roundtrip miles per day. The van driver might pick up riders at their individual homes and drive to a Park & Ride, where they would park the van in a reserved spot and catch transit to work, then do the same thing in reverse in the evening. Or riders might meet at a Park & Ride, catch transit and have the van parked in a reserved spot at the other end, where they all hop in and head to work. After work, they return the van to its reserved Park & Ride spot, then catch transit back to their individual cars.

Vanpool and vanshare programs save riders time spent in traffic as well as time spent searching for parking. They also cut the cost of travel with a flat fee that’s split between riders to help cover the costs of operating the van, including fuel, maintenance, and insurance. For vanpoolers, the monthly fare based on roundtrip miles and the number of passengers is, on average, only $100 per person, per month. Vanshare groups pay $145 per month for the entire group.

Vanshare Tacoma
Updated vans are smaller and sportier than older models, and join a fleet of more than 350 passenger vehicles that help Pierce Transit riders travel comfortably to and from work. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.

Between now and Dec. 31, there are several financial incentives available for participating in either program. New vanshare groups can pay just $30 per month until the end of 2016, and vanpool is offering incentives for continuing, starting or rejoining a vanpool.

Pierce Transit handles all of the nitty gritty details and keeps fees stationary so riders can focus on getting where they need to go. While it’s always a good idea to learn more about the coverage that your primary insurance carrier offers and to mention that you’re a volunteer or back-up driver for a vanpool, no additional coverage is required for drivers. In fact, the primary driver’s fare is usually free of charge in exchange for operating the van. Pierce Transit now offers online payment options, making it simple and hassle free to take care of fees from the convenience of your computer or mobile device.

Savings present themselves in the form of less wear and tear to passengers’ primary vehicles as well as significant savings on gas and parking during the weekly commute. According to AAA, the average cost per mile for driving a single occupancy vehicle is 57.1 cents including fuel, maintenance, tires, license, insurance and depreciation. Based on this rate, vanpoolers can save approximately $500 to $600 per month. That could pay for the car you leave at home!

Pierce Transit Vanshare
Designed for the first and last leg of the journey, Pierce Transit’s Vanshare program bridges the gap in commuting for more than 2,400 people every day who take the train or bus to work. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.

In addition, many employers offer a partnership with Pierce Transit’s vanpool program. More than 90 percent of the 160 employers with a Pierce Transit vanpool serving their site offer a transportation subsidy ranging from $50 to $255 per month per employee. If your employer works with Pierce Transit, express your interest in learning how to take advantage of any incentives that might be available to you.

Nervous about operating a passenger van? Don’t sweat it. Pierce Transit offers online training to make sure drivers are prepared and comfortable at the helm. If anything ever goes wrong, Pierce Transit offers 24/7 assistance and has replacement vans available in case of emergencies or when the van requires maintenance. Vans are regularly serviced at 5,000 miles, so most maintenance issues are scheduled in advance to accommodate riders.

On a green note, Pierce Transit vanpools are making a positive impact on the environment and our communities, too. According to 2015 statistics, vanpooling saves 2.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. A group of vanpoolers can take more than a dozen cars off the road, decreasing congestion and ultimately negating the need to build new roads, which is another great reason to consider combining your commute with co-workers and friends

Pierce Transit Vanpool
Vanpools go to many employers around our community, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.

Vanpool riders sum it up best. On a recent vanpool survey report, one commuter writes that vanshare is, “…an enjoyable experience [that] allows me to unwind at the end of my work day [and] reduces my stress level by not having to drive.”

Another traveler writes, “As a benefit, I rate the vanpool service as only second to my employer-paid medical insurance. The opportunity to ride a van not only helps the environment, but also allows me to save hundreds of dollars each year on gas and parking.”

If you’d like to learn more about how to form or join and existing vanpool or vanshare, visit rideshareonline.com. There are several programs and incentives available; for more information, visit Pierce Transit’s Rewards page to see how you can save.

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