FAIRFAX, Va. – With kids heading back to school, and most Virginia students returning next week, the Washington area is about to get slammed with September traffic. But there is a way to take cars off the road and help commuters save money at the same time.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation says “vanpooling” is becoming more common. In a vanpool, a group of seven to 10 people who both live and work near each other meet at an agreed-upon spot such as a mall or park to ride every day, and use a leased van to ride to work and back.
Although the vans are privately leased and the ground rules for each vanpool are set by the members, local transportation departments provide subsidies and other assistance because each vanpool means fewer cars on the road and less congestion.
“Call us and say ‘I’m just sick of driving, this construction traffic is killing me, there’s gotta be something I can do,” Walter Daniel of the Fairfax County Transportation Department says.
He says Base Realignment and Closure has especially boosted vanpooling in the county, with 35 vans now going into Fort Belvoir, Va. For now, the county only tracks vans that it assists with or subsidizes, but that is expected to change in the fall when a new system will give a full picture of vanpool operations for the first time.
Daniel drove a vanpool for more than a decade, and says there are many challenges to setting one up that the DOT can help commuters overcome.
One of the biggest issues is that everyone wants to ride, but very few people want to drive. Daniel says some groups resolve that by letting the driver ride free. Everyone can still save money, Daniel points out, because the average monthly cost for a 10-person van may come out to just $200 per rider.
The county also subsidizes empty seats for the first four months of a new vanpool while riders find other members to add to their group.