Glenn Slowey, left, and Sam Ejim wait for Cliff Roberts to exit the InterCity Transit vanpool vehicle at McChord Field. Every work day, the men and four of their colleagues commute from Lacey to McChord Field in the van.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Dan Cotto is one of the few South Sound residents who don't mind making regular stops at the pump paying $4 a gallon for gas.

That's because Cotto drives a vanpool fully funded by Thurston County's public transportation system, InterCity Transit. He and six other people commute from Lacey to McChord Field each day, saving lots of money in the long run. The county provides him a credit card to pay for gas, the federal government covers the cost of the van and passengers can earn rewards just for riding in the van.

The contracting specialist working for Mission and Installation Contracting Command in Building 100 at McChord Field has a message for his fellow civilian and Airmen officemates: you too can save money, save the environment and start a vanpool.

Cotto believes his vanpool is the only one at McChord, and he would like to see that change. The incentives, saving nearly $130 per month in gas and insurance, far outweigh the negatives.
"A lot of people don't know that insurance companies give you a discount for taking the defensive driver course," Cotto said, referring to the required course vanpool drivers must take through the county.

When he first started the vanpool in 2009, skeptics asked him what would happen if there was an emergency and they needed to get a ride somewhere'

InterCity Transit has an emergency ride program under which vanpool riders can get reimbursed for using a taxi a few times a year.

For doctor appointments or special events for children, anyone in the vanpool can just drive themselves for that day. And vanpool drivers aren't locked into driving from point A to point B; Cotto said he has about a 100-mile leeway each month in case drivers need the van.

Vanpool riders have another great advantage to having to drive to work - morning entertainment. Instead of dealing with gridlock, car accidents or being pulled over by the police, riders can relax in the back of the van, reading, sleeping or playing Angry Birds on the iPhone.

"We've become a tight little group, and are vanpool friends," Cotto said.
Active duty Airmen and Soldiers worried about physical training at 6:30 a.m. or late-night, last minute activities can really benefit from a vanpool. Vanpools have full latitude to decide when to leave and come home, so servicemembers in the same unit who live in Puyallup, for example, and work

the same schedule, can plan their own trips accordingly to save money. "There (are) going to be times when you have to stay late and finish the job, but most of the time, units stay late together, so it should work," Cotto said.

Both InterCity Transit and Pierce County's Pierce Transit have one-stop alternative transportation websites designed to help anyone find a vanpool, carpool, and other ways to accomplish your commute other than driving alone in your vehicle. The federal government offers subsidies to both military and federal civilians who take advantage of alternative modes like vanpools, to help out even more. It's a state law, said Makieda Hart, JBLM's employee transportation coordinator.
The Washington Legislature passed the Commute Trip Reduction law in 1991 to call on employers to encourage their workers to drive alone less, reduce carbon emissions and keep the busiest routes flowing, according to the Washington Department of Transportation.

"It's a great way to alleviate congestion around Joint Base Lewis-McChord and definitely to save money," Hart said.

Just because a vanpool isn't going to JBLM doesn't mean you can't ride one. If a vanpool is going from Tacoma to Lacey, vanpools can drop JBLM employees off at the DuPont Gate and then continue onto their final destination.

"It just depends on how flexible people are willing to be and how they can make it work for them," Hart said.

The program simply makes too much sense for JBLM employees to ignore, said the vanpool driver.
"(They) save people money, save gas money, take lots of vehicles off the road, and the program really works, and I'm sold on it 100 percent," Cotto said.

For more information on starting your own vanpool in the area, visit InterCity Transit's website at or Pierce Transit at If you would like help in getting started a vanpool at McChord, call Cotto at 982-0104. Department of the Army employees can call Hart at 966-1766.

Need your car everyday, but still want to save money' Visit both websites to find people near your home looking to ride with you and qualify as a carpool. The federal government offers subsidies on carpool-related expenses and the counties provide incentives and rewards as well.

Lorin T. Smith:

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16