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Nebraska DOT will test drive ?new statewide vanpooling program

August 6, 2017 GMT

The state is hoping Nebraskans will consider taking advantage of a new twist on carpooling.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation has entered a three-year contract with Enterprise Rideshare to bring a statewide vanpool program to Nebraska. The program provides a way to carpool using vehicles large enough for six to 15 people.

A travel study conducted in 2013 by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency found more than 2,000 people commuting daily between Lancaster and Douglas Counties.

The Omaha area already has the Metro Rideshare program, but ridership has plateaued as gas prices have, said MAPA Executive Director Greg Youell. The program is now being redesigned to connect it with the State of Iowa’s ride-share program, so current ridership figures are unavailable, according to MAPA.

MAPA approached the transportation department with the idea of vanpooling.

“Most cities of our size have vanpool programs that are pretty active,” Youell said.

Cost savings can add up quickly on longer commutes. If commuters switch from driving to using a vanpool on a 100-mile round trip to work, the transportation department estimates they can save up to $10,000 a year.

In urban areas such as Omaha, vanpools can save the headache of driving through traffic in the morning and figuring out where to park, as well as reduce congestion, said transportation department transit manager Kari Ruse.

Riders in a vanpool rent a van, then split the costs of fuel and maintenance. One of the commuters in a vanpool group volunteers to be the vehicle’s driver, and also will have the vehicle for personal use up to an agreed-upon number of miles.

A “guaranteed ride home” program also ensures riders can contact Enterprise and get a lift if the rider needs to go home at a different time because of unexpected overtime or a sick child.

Enterprise provides the program’s Wi-Fi and satellite-radio-equipped vans and handles the vehicles’ auto liability insurance. If the program goes well, the state can extend the contract with Enterprise to last a total of five years, which would amount to a $1.4 million agreement, Ruse said.

No one has been signed up for the program yet, but the transportation department and Enterprise have focused on reaching out to companies to get the program started.

Several large employers, such as Tyson Foods near Kearney and Hudl in Lincoln, have expressed interest in creating vanpool routes for their workers, Ruse said.

“It’s a benefit to both the employees and employers, especially in rural areas where people are traveling large distances to work,” she said.

Through vanpooling, rural areas that can’t support public transportation gain a “safe, affordable and reliable” way to travel, she said.

Because of Nebraskans’ varying commutes, Ruse said she couldn’t estimate yet how much a vanpool passenger might pay.

Subsidies are available and can run up to $400 a month per vanpool as long as funding is available from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Ruse said.

In Michigan, where a vanpool program has been in service for decades, vanpool riders pay between $64 and $270 a month, said Elaine Luo, a program specialist with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Its program began in 1980 with about a dozen vehicles and has since grown to include more than 400 vans.

The Cleveland area’s vanpool program is far newer. It started transporting passengers in February and had grown to five vans by June, said Jonathan Ciesla, a service planner with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

“Some are doing it for the environment, some for their pocketbook, but also just the ease of travel,” he said.

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Interested in vanpooling?

To form a vanpool, employees or employers can contact Enterprise sales manager Cynthia Kinning at 402-659-6027.

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