But the number of vanpools cruising from Richmond to Hampton Roads or D.C. could jump 20% this year alone. And for in-town commuters, sharing a van could cut the cost of getting to work by almost 70% in the most extreme cases.Peyton Youmans, manager of the Richmond office of the vanpooling provider VPSI, said he could be managing 70 vans by the end of 2008. Currently, there are 58 coming in and out of Richmond. Most are used on very long commutes, logging 75 miles or more each way. They’re popular with government workers and contractors, in part because of federal subsidies.
But the vans might also start gaining popularity with those who don’t drive hundreds of miles round trip. Sharing a 15-person van can reduce the cost of commuting by up to 70% per person.
If that’s enough to throw your anti-vanning sentiments out the proverbial window, consider you might have to be seen driving the van. VPSI doesn’t provide a driver. In most pools, everyone is expected to drive, Youmans said. VPSI rents the vehicles to a group of employees and takes care of insurance, registration, maintenance, and the cost of gas. (Each car comes with a fuel card.)
Youmans said he and his sales staff are trying to convince large local employers to introduce the idea to their employees. Rarely, though, does a company buy the service for employees.
“We keep the relationship simple and shield the organization,” Youmans said, meaning the agreement is between VPSI and a group of employees.
There is at least one other van sharing company in town. A former VPSI customer started K&K Connection. That business has around 12 vans. BizSense was unable to reach K&K.
The savings can be substantial, especially when employees can pay for the service with pre-taxed income.
The GRTC Transit System also provides a $350 subsidy for each van on the road (the dollar figure is slightly less for the smaller vans).
The savings likely aren’t enough of an incentive to drive average commuters out of their cars and into vans, but for those who travel more than 16 or 17 miles and have 14 other workers in the same neighborhood – the savings could be worth garaging that car or SUV.
For example, if a group of workers lived at Short Pump and worked downtown, they’d commute around 15 miles each way. Let’s say each drives an SUV that gets around 20 miles a gallon. With gas at $4 a gallon, that would be a monthly gas bill of $120 a month (not counting parking downtown).
The fee and gas on a 9-person van would run around $980, or $108 per person. Probably not going to change a lot of driving habits.
But if the same gang can round up a few more folks, they can ride in a 15-person van (that’s the max for somebody to drive without a commercial driver’s license). The cost per person would be $66, or about half as much as driving solo.
When you throw in parking, which can run from $60 to $100 a month, a van sharing program can cut down commuting costs by almost 70%.
Maybe vans aren’t so uncool. Mr. T drove one, after all.