Choose Your Way Bellevue Blog

(Editors note: This post originally appeared on the Bellevue Downtown Association website.)

The countdown is on.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is slated to close on January 11 for three weeks, at which point the new two-mile-long SR 99 tunnel connecting Seattle Center to the stadiums will open. Then, on March 23 the buses that currently go through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel will be brought up to surface streets to allow for better light rail scheduling.

Map of SR 99 closure through downtown Seattle via WSDOT.

These changes, coupled with construction on both sides of the lake and our region’s usual traffic, will likely make for long commutes in the months ahead, and not just in Seattle. According to WSDOT, “drivers should expect up to six weeks of region-wide congestion.”

News agencies, transit agencies, SDOT and WSDOT all recommend making a plan and doing as much as you can to stay off the roads, especially during the three weeks (ish) when both the new tunnel and the viaduct will be closed.

So, what does making a plan mean? Some of us can’t change our work schedule, or the way we work, but for those of us that can, Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien suggests that we “think about…what can we do for the common good” such as:

  • Telework – The best way to avoid being part of traffic is to stay home!
  • Shift your work day – Can you travel outside peak travel times? Start later and catch a less crowded bus for your commute.
  • Carpool – Talk to your neighbors and coworkers or go to RideshareOnline to form a carpool; or let an app like Waze, iCarpool or Scoop do it for you! To help with congestion and encourage carpooling King County Metro is partnering with Waze and Scoop dynamic carpooling apps to offer discounts and incentives to those commuting to, from or within King County. Learn more here and check with your employer; some are offering additional incentives
  • Take transit – Your employer may provide you with an ORCA card (if not, click here), and transportation experts like us at Choose Your Way Bellevue will plan your commute for free! There are a few easy bus routes that go between Seattle and the Bellevue Transit Center including:

Coming from Eastgate or West Seattle? Try Ride2, the new on-demand shuttle service from King County Metro!

  • Take vacation – Saving up those time off days? Cash in during these three weeks and say goodbye to traffic and hello to a beach.

No matter what you choose or questions you have, our team is here to help you navigate.

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019 12:54 PM | by Tim Kelley | Comments Off on Your commute to Bellevue during the #SeattleSqueeze

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!

Whizzing Past Other Traffic In The HOV Lane

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.

We’re Not the Only One!

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.

Our Lovely Van Parked At Its Home In Seattle


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

Thursday, December 20th, 2018 10:03 AM | by geri | Add a Comment

 

Did you know that you can have a chance to earn awesome rewards just by logging your commute? Just by signing up for Choose Your Way Bellevue Rewards and logging eight non-drive alone commute trips a month you will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a $100 REI gift card!

Gwen is our November Mover of the Month and carpools regularly from her home in Kent to Downtown. By choosing to carpool, Gwen has been able to catch up on her favorite audio books, and it almost sounds like she enjoys sitting in traffic!

Here’s what Gwen shared with us:

For most of 2018, I have been working at the eBay Bellevue offices and carpooling with a partner that I met through RideshareOnline. It made the trip from home to work much quicker and cost effective. We started listing to podcasts, but soon shifted to books on audio and discovered a shared appreciation for the fantasy, mystery, and horror. We listened to The Haunting of Hill House and most of The Dresden Files. Instead of being stressful, when there’s a lot of traffic it became an opportunity to hear more of the book that we’d only listen to while commuting together–a nice compensation.

But why the cutesy picture of jewelry instead of a carpool photo?  Well Gwen told us that in her personal life, she enjoys making chainmail jewelry as a part-time business and that carpooling has been an “Important Link” in her life.  Too clever! We love it Gwen!

And remember, you can learn more about Choose Your Way Bellevue Rewards, including the Monthly Perks Program and 25 win $25 Drawing!

-Choose Your Way Bellevue Staff

Friday, December 14th, 2018 10:56 AM | by geri | Add a Comment

You’ve probably heard the news about the SR 99 closure and the significant impacts for commuters. King County Metro needs your help to reduce traffic and fill seats in our vans. On January 11, 2019 the closure begins and will last for at least three weeks–some ramps and roadways may be closed to traffic for up to six weeks. Rideshare Operations has three exciting solutions to assist you during the closure and beyond!

  1. Add a New Rider – Metro Vans Get Rewarded. Existing Metro Vanpool or Vanshare groups that add a new rider can get a $50 gift card.
  2. Join a Metro Van – New Riders are Free During the SR 99 Closure. New riders can join a Metro Vanpool or Vanshare and ride for FREE during the SR 99 closure period
  3. Connect to the King County Water Taxi with Vanshare. New Metro Vanshare groups that connect from their home to the Water Taxi in West Seattle or from the Seattle Water Taxi at Pier 52 to their worksite get three months for FREE ($555 value). Groups can get started will just three participants.

Learn more about these promotions on the King County Rideshare page.

-Choose Your Way Bellevue Staff

Thursday, December 13th, 2018 3:06 PM | by geri | Add a Comment

Great news! For a limited time, King County Metro is sponsoring carpooling trips for all King County commuters! This means lower costs when you ride, and an even higher reimbursement when you drive, plus bonuses when you refer a friend.

With this special incentive and flexible, easy-to-use carpooling apps, upgrading your commute is easier than ever. Just follow these four steps:

  1. Download a participating free carpool app (Scoop or Waze Carpool).
  2. Enter your trip locations and times.
  3. Get matched with neighbors or co-workers going your way.
  4. Book a ride and enjoy the benefits.*

Learn more at kingcounty.gov/carpool

*Service areas, pricing, and features vary across apps.

Get ready for the upcoming State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct closure. Avoid the stress of driving alone and get in the carpool lane!

-Choose Your Way Bellevue Staff

Thursday, December 13th, 2018 2:46 PM | by geri | Add a Comment

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