By Dan Weikel, December 30, 2014
Karen Morgan prepares to drive home as Selim Eren fetches a jacket after
a vRide Vanpool arrives at Wardlow Park in Long Beach after a commute
from Santa Monica.
Driving solo to work continues to define L.A.'s entrenched car
culture. But commuters across the county are increasingly turning to
alternatives such as the van pool, a venerable ride-sharing option that
can reduce air pollution, travel times and transportation costs.
Metro, which administers the largest public van pool operation in North
America, participation has more than doubled in the last six years,
with a total of 1,375 van groups operating today. Officials expect that
figure to grow by at least 8% in 2015.
Van pool members, who ride
together in groups of five to 15, can save hundreds of dollars a month
in commuting costs. And because driving duties are shared, they avoid
the stress of getting behind the wheel every day during rush hours.
way would I go back to driving alone to work," said Tawnya Betancourt
of Long Beach, a financial analyst, who organized a five-person van pool
with Metro's help. It runs between Long Beach and Santa Monica — a
30-mile trip one-way.
Metro, which began its program in 2007,
offers eligible van pools a monthly subsidy of up to $400 to help cover
the cost of vehicle leases or other expenses. Participants must travel
at least 15 miles one way, have a minimum of five people and agree that
the van pool will commute to workplaces in Los Angeles County.
companies, public institutions and local governments also can provide
financial incentives to assist their employees and other commuters
interested in Metro's program.
say van pooling is an example of "shared mobility," an emerging
transportation strategy to provide the public with alternatives to
"It involves a multi-part relationship with the
commuter at its hub," said Jami Carringon, Metro's program manager. "The
shared mobility concept is the wave of the future. We are only going to
grow it more."
Similar programs have been set up by the San Diego
Assn. of Governments, the Orange County Transportation Authority and
the Victor Valley Transit Authority in San Bernardino County. In
addition, private companies and public institutions have helped organize
and fund their own van pools.
Betancourt's van pool began in
April 2011 and is typical of the operations Metro supports, as well as
the benefits that can accrue to participants.
group meets about 6 a.m. on weekdays, in the pre-dawn darkness at
Wardlow Park in Long Beach. They board a seven-passenger Dodge Caravan
and head north in the carpool lane of the 405 Freeway, one of the
busiest highways in the nation.
Some people sleep. One rider
usually consults mobile traffic apps to monitor congestion and scope out
alternate routes. The morning commute normally takes 45 minutes to an
hour, about 30 minutes less than it would fighting traffic for a solo
The trip home in the evening can take up to an hour and 20
minutes due to congestion on the southbound 405 and the need to use
surface streets to get around freeway bottlenecks.
$400 a month Metro provides helps offset the $870 monthly lease for the
vehicle, which is rented from vRide, one of several car rental agencies
that specialize in van pools. The lease includes insurance and
Each member contributes $175 to $200 a month for gas
and car washes — expenses that are defrayed by tax breaks and small
subsidies from employers.
Betancourt says she has reduced her
travel costs about $300 a month and can park the van for free at the
Water Garden office complex where she works. Another rider, Denise
Kinsella, an associate dean of international studies at Santa Monica
College, estimated she saves at least $100 a month.
"I went from driving 60 miles a day to just seven miles," she said. "I don't understand why more people aren't doing this.
officials say van poolers using their program save an average of $152 a
month in travel costs. Because 90% of participants used to drive alone
to work, an estimated 7,000 cars a day have been removed from the
region's highways. That translates into a reduction in carbon emissions
of 4,000 metric tons a month, according to the agency.
pooling is a great way to reduce trips and therefore cut congestion and
air pollution," said Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air
Quality Management District. "It's like a car pool on steroids. Some
vans carry up to 12 people."
Van pools are encouraged by district
rules that require employers with more than 250 workers to develop
emission reduction strategies to meet air quality goals for their work
Of course, van pools are not for everyone, and Metro
officials acknowledge that recruiting new riders can be difficult.
Members must have similar work schedules and both live and work in the
same general areas. The program also may not meet the needs of people
who must use their cars for work assignments or to run errands during
Nevertheless, Metro's van pool program has continued to
expand, attracting commuters from Kern, Orange, Riverside, San
Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties. The annual budget to pay for
subsidies and administration has grown steadily to about $7.5 million.
"People have just wanted to get out of the slow lane and find a better way," Carrington said. "Van pooling is one solution."