Yes, Watervliet, there is such a thing as a free ride
September 15, 2009
- Going green saves green at the Watervliet Arsenal
- New vanpool saves workforce nearly $400 a month, each
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- Although the Watervliet Arsenal workforce may believe there is no such thing as a free lunch, some have found that by going "green" there is such a thing as a free ride.
No, the Arsenal workforce is not participating in a television realty show that would have them pimp their ride. But what a few energy conscious wanderers have found is that the federal and New York state governments will pay for their transportation to and from work.
Jan Bathurst, Information Specialist at the Arsenal, recently heard about a little known government-sponsored vanpool program at the Army's Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey called, "1-800-Van-Ride," and he took the first steps toward establishing a vanpool at the Arsenal.
VPSI, Inc., a company launched from the Chrysler Corporation in the 1970s to conserve fuel and to reduce vehicle emissions among the workforce, is today's largest private provider of commuter vanpool transportation services in the world, according to its website.
VPSI provides the vans that support Picatinny Arsenal's vanpool program, as well as to vanpool programs at more than 70 other military installations throughout the country.
According to Bathurst, VPSI provided him and four other Arsenal riders a new van in late July and he started the vanpool in August.
"Through Department of the Army and New York state-sponsored programs, that were designed to promote the reduction of carbon emissions, minimize highway congestion, and to reduce America's dependence on oil, we are able to ride free to work," Bathurst said.
Although being "green" in their everyday lives is important to each vanpool rider, saving money doesn't hurt, Bathurst added.
Fellow rider Peter Knapp, with the Army's BenAfAt Laboratories at the Arsenal, said that each one of the pool riders would have more than a 100-mile drive each day getting to and from work. "For each of us, the vanpool saves about $400 a month in gas expenses."
"Additionally, not only do we save money on gas each week, we also save money on the maintenance and repair of our personal vehicles," Knapp added.
Bathurst said there is also a savings in car insurance because he is able to reduce his annual mile usage on his personal car.
James Lowenthal, fellow rider who works in the Arsenal's Operations Directorate, said that he didn't believe the news when he first heard about the government-sponsored vanpool program. "This is a great program that not only has saved us money, but also will greatly help the environment."
Jesse Kafka, VPSI business executive, said the Arsenal vanpool receives funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or NYSERDA and from the Department of the Army.
For example, the Army's Mass Transportation Benefit Program kicks in about $230 a month per rider. NYSERDA provides another $500 a month, which currently picks up the remaining cost of the Arsenal vanpool program.
"With this funding and the current cost of gas, the Arsenal vanpool riders are able to ride free," Kafka said.
Kafka added that at the Picatinny Arsenal, more than 200 workers now participate in the vanpool program with VPSI, but there is untapped potential in upstate New York.
"As of today, there are about 30 vanpools in New York State and the Watervliet Arsenal has the only vanpool program in upstate New York," Kafka said. "So, there is a lot of potential in the Capital District to form a vanpool that will greatly reduce personal expenses for gas, maintenance, and repair of privately-owned vehicles."
Although the Arsenal is the first vanpool in the Capital District for VPSI, Kafka said this van ride program is not limited to military organizations. "Any group of commuters who typically travel more than 15 miles each way to work may qualify for a vanpool managed by VPSI."
Kafka said that although the vanpool program produces significant cost savings to its riders, its primary purpose was and still is to conserve fuel and to reduce vehicle emissions.
"According to 2007 figures, each 7-passenger van saves up to $17,000 a year in fuel costs and 58 tons of CO2 emissions," said Kafka. "A 15-passenger van reduces CO2 emissions by more than 136 tons annually, which is the equivalent to planting 6.2 acres of pine trees."
Although reducing the carbon footprint and saving money are noble goals for the program, for anyone who has visited or worked on the Arsenal knows that parking is also a premium. So this is the gift that keeps giving.