Program usage surged 23 percent last month
For drivers frustrated with a long, grueling commute, it’s never been a better time to look into vanpooling, thanks to the new Bay Area Vanpool Program, which provides direct subsidies to both new and existing vanpools. A $9.5 million commitment approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in July 2018 allows qualifying vanpools that rent their vehicles through Commute With Enterprise, a service of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, to reduce the cost of their van rates by $350 a month, initially for the next five years.
More than 500 commute vanpools currently operate in the nine-county Bay Area, and MTC hopes the subsidy will grow the fleet to more than 800 vans over the next several years. The first Bay Area Vanpool Program subsidies were distributed in November 2018 to 71 separate vanpools, a number that rose last month to 88 vanpools.
“Vanpooling is a good option for commuters traveling 20 miles or more each way and who have pretty regular schedules,” said Megan Nangle, program manager for MTC’s Bay Area Vanpool Program. “More and more people are needing to commute farther given the Bay Area housing market, so vanpooling is becoming a good choice for more commuters.”
A vanpool typically consists of seven to 15 people commuting to and from home to work; often with two or three participants sharing the driving. If the vanpool includes seven people, the Bay Area Vanpool Program subsidy would average $50 per person per month. Participants can use pretax dollars to pay for the remainder of their vanpool expenses, further reducing the cost of their shared commute.
“Offering employees the ability to pay vanpool costs with pre-tax dollars is a way employers can comply with the Bay Area’s Commuter Benefits Program,” said Eric Pop, air quality specialist with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program requires employers with 50 or more employees in the Bay Area to provide some type of commuter benefit to their workforce — be it transit or vanpool subsidies, shuttles to transit, or the ability to pay transit and vanpool costs with pre-tax dollars.
“Before these subsidies, a person’s vanpool cost typically would be around $150 a month, with the price varying by how far they commute, the number of people in the vanpool and the rental cost of the vehicle,” said Nangle, MTC’s vanpool program coordinator. “Between these new subsidies and the longstanding tax benefits, vanpooling is going to be a really cost-effective option for commuters traveling long distances.”
Vanpool driver Beth Russel, who commutes daily between Vacaville and Richmond, praised the merits of vanpooling. “With the added vanpool subsidy, our folks are happier than ever and now saving more than 60 percent off their commute costs of driving alone. There are only a few simple requirements to qualify for the program. Tracking our ridership and fuel costs is something we did anyway, and Enterprise has made it easy to track that information online now. It’s that simple to save even more money now on our daily commute, help reduce road congestion, build relationships with fellow van members and know that we are doing our part in making our planet a little bit greener.”
Commuters who do not already have a group with which to vanpool can learn how to join a vanpool or start a new one by visiting https://511.org/carpool-vanpool/vanpool/overview.
Vanpools can apply for the Bay Area Vanpool Program subsidies on the Enterprise site at https://www.commutewithenterprise.com/en/partners/mtc.html. The program is funded by MTC with federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) transportation dollars and a grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The Commission selected Enterprise as the program vendor through a competitive process.
MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.