There's an alternative to rising gas prices

Think van pool

Lower Valley commuters, who travel west to go to work or classes, may want to consider an alternative to increasing gas prices and the daily grind behind the wheel.

Yakima Transit Vanpool offers groups the opportunity to travel by van at a cost that might be less than one has to pay when driving a private car.

To date, there has been no success in getting a van pool started in the Lower Valley. One was organized earlier this year in Sunnyside, but, while it operated for awhile, it wasn't cost effective because not enough people signed on.

At the present time there are no van pools in the Lower Valley, but Yakima Transit Vanpool would like to have several running from the Lower Valley to points west.

"They have to have a connection to Yakima because we are part of the City of Yakima," said Karen Allen, marketing and program administrator for Yakima Transit.

That connection requirement means that Lower Valley commuters heading to Hanford, the Tri-Cities or other points east could not plug into the van pool program. But commuters who work or go to school in Yakima or Selah might find a shared ride the answer to road weariness and the rising cost of gasoline.

The state requires a minimum of only five people in a van pool, but the fee is shared by those people, so, of course, the more people riding, the less the cost.

"The maximum number for a van pool is 12 people, and we do have some with just eight people. The number really depends on how much the riders want to commit to," said Allen.

A rider's commitment isn't just to paying the monthly van fee, which is divided among the riders, but also to give a notice five days prior to the end of a month if dropping out of the pool. The notice allows the vanpoolers time to recruit a new rider.

If commuters in the Lower Valley would like to start a van pool, the first step would be to call Margie Fontana, a new employee at Yakima Transit hired to promote van pools. She can be reached at 509-575-6175.

The second step is to start looking for others who are headed to work or college in the same direction on a daily basis. Accessing, a state-wide computerized ride match system, can also help potential van poolers find compatible traveling companions.

Every van pool organized by Yakima Transit has a primary driver, several back-up drivers and an agency-trained coordinator. The primary driver may choose to pay a fare and be included in the total pool number, or ride free in exchange for ensuring that the van pool is safely operated to and from work or college. The primary driver must be 21 years or older with five years of driving experience.

Every group determines its own schedule and the route that will be traveled. Most pools elect to have only one or two pick-up points to keep mileage and commute time at a minimum.

While van pooling can save big money, it is not free.

According to AAA, it costs an average of 56 cents per mile to operate a personal vehicle (excluding SUVs). Riders in a van pool of 10 would pay about $60.93 each per month, if they made a 65-mile round trip five days a week.

The monthly fares paid by van pool riders is based on daily round trip mileage and the number of riders in the van. These fares cover vehicle cost, insurance, fuel, maintenance, tires and administrative expenses. Yakima Transit provides the vans and training for the volunteer drivers.

Fontana will not only provide information about how to organize a van pool, but is available to speak to interested groups about the possibility and benefits of commuting in a van pool.


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