Jump into the pool and go, van, go

December 22, 2008
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LANSING — Margie Little is responsible for getting five of her fellow University of Michigan employees to Ann Arbor each day.

Little, who lives in Jackson, drives a seven-passenger van to meet her coworkers in Grass Lake — about a 30-minute drive from their jobs. Little has been van pooling for 14 years, and though she carries more passengers than the average commuter, she said she enjoys the experience.

A van pool is a group of five to 15 people who commute together. Passengers pay about 5 cents each per mile to rent vehicles from commuter van companies and share gas costs. Typically, one person volunteers as a driver and coordinator and normally rides for free.

Crowded roads, environmental concerns — and until recently, high gas prices — have jump-started an interest in van pooling, the Department of Transportation says. The program, begun in 1980, saw significant growth this year, with the start of 100 more van pooling groups, according to Director Kirk Steudle.

“One of the best values for your money is riding in a van pool,” Steudle said. “It’s good for the environment and the pocketbook.”

Companies like VPSI Inc. in Troy, the MDOT-funded company which operates 4,500 commuter vans nationally and an exclusive contract in the state, are getting more inquiries about pooling than ever, said Patrick McLaughlin, a communications officer for the company.

“Obviously, the cost of gas and the state of the economy have led people to seek new transportation options,” McLaughlin said. “People are also concerned about the environment — they want to lower emissions and to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Commuters can also cut down on everyday wear-and-tear on their cars, McLaughlin said, as van companies pay for insurance and maintenance.

Van pooling takes more than 40,000 Michigan vehicles off the road and can save about 152,000 gallons of fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 1,500 tons each month, MDOT said.

Most riders come from the Detroit metropolitan areas, McLaughlin said, especially Ann Arbor and Warren, according to Chris Hooper, marketing programs manager for VPSI.

McLaughlin said commuters with drives of 30 minutes or longer especially benefit from the program.

“There’s a social aspect to van pooling as well,” he said. “People can use that time for meetings or get started on work. It’s a good way to get to know your co-workers.”

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