With the Seattle Squeeze less than a month away, now is the time to start planning for your commute alternatives! Congestion is expected to impact travel beyond SR 99 and I-5 and even affecting travel on the Eastside. Have you ever thought about trying a vanpool? You’ve seen those dark-colored vans emblazoned with “King County Metro VANPOOL” on the side breezing through the HOV lanes on the freeways, or maybe you’ve seen one parked in your neighborhood. Maybe it’s time to look into how you can cut your commute costs, fast-track it through traffic, or just find a less stressful way to get to work!
In this blog post we connect with two vanpool experts to learn the ins and outs of sharing the ride to get to work! First up we have Kate Johnson, who is a Transportation Planner at the City of Bellevue and is the driver of vanpool from her home in Seattle to City Hall in downtown Bellevue.
CYWB: Hi Kate, how long have you been vanpooling? Where does your vanpool start, and where do you pick up your other riders?
KJ: Our origin is in Upper Fremont in Seattle. Most of us meet at the origin point, but we make one pickup along the way just before getting on the freeway.
CYWB: How were you commuting beforehand, and what was the impetus to start vanpooling?
KJ: I have used just about every commute mode! Most recently I was biking about three miles to the bus, but the bus began to take longer than before. I have found that vanpooling provides me the fastest commute by taking advantage of the HOV lanes and providing a more direct route than the bus.
CYWB: What’s it like being the driver? What are your responsibilities? Do you get to choose which radio station the van listens to? 😊
KJ: As the primary driver, I drive the van regularly four days per week (there are backup drivers for the days I don’t drive). I also get gas (using the gas card provided by the vanpool program) and take the van to the maintenance shop when needed. Even though driving isn’t my favorite activity, I find that I don’t mind it when I have friendly vanpool mates going along for the ride. Having others with me makes my commute more interesting. We’re a pretty easygoing group – sometimes we have interesting discussions, and other times we’ll just enjoy silence or listen to the radio – and, yes, it’s a perk of driving to be able to choose the station!
CYWB: Is there anything you don’t like about vanpooling? Are there challenges coordinating the vanpool regarding logistics?
KJ: There are some administrative tasks involved with vanpooling, and we need to coordinate with each other to decide on departure times and agree on policies. We have set strict departure times, so that only those who show up on time may ride. This streamlines our departures – we don’t need to keep track of who is supposed to be in or out on a given day. But we’re flexible as well – riders can send a text if they are running a few minutes late, and the group will wait!
CYWB: Are there any surprise benefits that you weren’t expecting?
KJ: As a driver, the vanpool program allows me to use the van for occasional personal travel needs, which makes it easy for me to run errands and get to appointments during the workday.
CYWB: If you didn’t vanpool, what would you miss most about it?
KJ: I mainly like that my commute is faster than it would be any other way, and I have more time with my family at the end of the workday.
So after hearing about Kate’s experiences, now you’re interested? Curious how can you join or even start a vanpool of your own? We’re glad you asked! To help answer that question, we have Julie Paone who is a Transportation Planner with the King County Metro’s Vanpool program!
CYWB: Hi Julie, tell us about the King County Metro vanpool program? Is it true that it’s the oldest and biggest program of its kind in the entire country?
JP: In 2019, our program will be celebrating its 40th year anniversary! And a special thanks to all of our customers who contribute to the success of our program. Currently, King County Metro operates the nation’s largest public commuter van program, with 1,600 groups commuting in the region. Over this time, we’ve seen many changes in the transportation environment including new mobile app technologies and employers offering more work schedule flexibility. King County Metro recognizes these changes and strives to create a sustainable commuter van program than improves the customer experience, helps the environment by reducing additional vehicles on the road and reduces the demand for parking at employer worksites.
CYWB: How can someone join a vanpool? Are there easy ways to find existing vanpools?
JP: Anyone can join one of our vanpools, it’s part of the King County Metro public transportation system. The easiest way to find an existing vanpool is to register at www.RideshareOnline.com and search for matches which are displayed on the customized map. Then, contact the group to ask about seat availability and confirm their work hours and route. New riders can even ride for a few days to see if the van is a good fit for their commute.
CYWB: If someone wanted to start their own vanpool, what do they need to know, and what do they need to do?
JP: It’s easy to start a new group, it just takes five people who share a similar route. The group identifies at least two drivers, the more the merrier, and a person to fill the bookkeeper role. All participants complete an application, then work with a Metro representative to complete the online driver and bookkeeper training. Everything is included in the monthly fare – gas, insurance, maintenance, 24 hour roadside assistance, plus a ride home in an emergency. Many employees receive a transportation benefit from their employer so the cost is minimal or free to ride in the van.
CYWB: With the Seattle Squeeze coming, are there any special incentives that King County Metro is offering to get more people into vans?
JP: Yes, we are offering options to help reduce congestion by filling the empty seats in our Metro Vanpool and Vanshare groups. Through our enhanced Ticket-2-Ride program, new riders in a Metro van can ride for FREE during the SR 99 closure. New riders can search for a Metro van at www.RideshareOnline.com and contact the group to see if they have a seat available. Metro vans that add a new rider during the SR 99 closure will get rewarded, so it’s a win-win situation!
Metro van groups will get a $50 gift card by adding a new rider during the SR 99 closure and sharing a picture of their new rider on our Facebook page – www.Facebook.com/KCMetroVans. This promotion is available to all Metro Vanpools and Vanshare groups, even if they don’t travel through the downtown corridor. For all the details, visit kingcounty.gov/metrovans.
CYWB: Do you have any fun success stories that you’ve heard from vanpools that you can share?
JP: Many of our customers are thrilled about the time they saved by commuting in a van since they get home faster and can spend more personal time with their family and friends. The van also creates a community so we hear about the new friends they met by participating in the program. Many of the groups socialize outside of the commute and stay in touch through summer or holiday parties. We even had a couple meet and get married because they met each other while commuting in a vanpool. So, the vanpool program helps commuters save money, reduce time commuting and provides a social connection during the commute!
And with that, thanks so much to Kate and Julie for taking the time to share their experiences and expertise! If you want more information about vanpool incentives, check out our post from earlier this month. We’ll see you in the HOV lanes!
-Choose Your Way Bellevue Staff