Join vanpool to save money on commute
July 11, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (July 11, 2012) -- Like many other commuters, Darrell Sullivan started vanpooling when the costs of gas started rising.
"Now, since I've been at it for four years, the vanpool is not just a vanpool," the Fort Benning civilian said. "The vanpool is a social event for me and my participants twice a day. We look forward to seeing each other. There's a savings involved, but also environmentally, it's a friendly thing to do. As opposed to seven vehicles coming in and off the installation each day, it's one vehicle. Another benefit is the insurance. If you let (your provider) know you're in a vanpool, you can reduce the miles on your personal vehicle."
That's a lot of reasons to switch from driving alone to joining a vanpool. And for DA civilians and Soldiers, there's one more -- the Army Mass Transportation Benefit Program.
Across the Army, any service member or DA civilian using a bus, train or vanpool to commute to work is eligible for the benefit program. By signing up, commuters receive a voucher for up to $125 per month that they can take to any qualified van rental business.
Tiffani Migliore, management analyst with garrison command, said there are three vanpool providers who work with Soldiers and civilians coming onto post: vRide, Enterprise and Columbus Shuttle Service.
"The rates vary depending on the amount of travel involved," she said.
"We have about 130 commuters from the Atlanta area that commute to various places on Fort Benning. The providers offer an assortment of vans for the commute. Some have bucket leather seats, Wi-Fi and flip-down movie screens."
Columbus Shuttle Service
Sullivan uses Columbus Shuttle Service, which, he said, has "the best deal going."
"The base rate for a seven-passenger van at 60 to 90 miles a day (through other vendors) is $1,200 per month," he said. "Columbus Shuttle Service has a … more competitive offer."
The business was started by retired Lt. Col. Joel Funk last year.
The chaplain of 26 years' service said he doesn't want his customers to pay him one cent out of their own pockets.
"Join the Army Mass Transportation Benefit Program and get a free minivan" is how Funk pitches the idea to commuters.
"Well, it's not actually yours to keep, but you can use it for free to go back and forth to work as long as you remain in the program," he said.
"The Mass Transportation Benefit Program will reimburse you for all the costs incurred in riding in a vanpool to commute from your residence to your permanent duty station workplace."
Funk said he started offering vans when he saw a need for affordable rentals.
"My goal is to get it where nobody has to pay any out-of-pocket expenses," he said. "I'm a cancer patient, so I had to retire, and this is something I can do from home. I wanted to do it as a community service type of thing. That's the chaplain part in me. I still want to remain with the troops and be able to help them out when I can, and I found this as one of the ways to do that."
Darrell Sullivan said his voucher, combined with those of the other six riders, pays for the monthly van rental. The only expenses are for gas.
"It's kind of unbelievable," he said. "Joel is out to provide a service. He's not out to make money on this."
As a rule, when it comes to vanpooling, rates are based on a number of factors.
"The monthly seat cost varies," said Ebonie Hughes, a RideShare manager with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. "There are two variables that minimally affect a person's monthly seat fare: gas prices and ridership. If gas prices rise or fall, the seat fare will rise or fall, and if the number of assigned riders increase or decrease, so will the seat fare. In an effort to keep seat costs low, Enterprise plays an integral role in helping to control the number of riders assigned to the vanpool."
Other factors that might affect price include the number of miles driven and the model year of the van.
"Employees who commute 40 plus roundtrip miles per day pay about $200 per month," Hughes said. "Keep in mind that the Mass Transportation Incentive Program offers each federal employee up to $125 off their vanpool seat each month."
Along with the van, Enterprise also offers vouchers for a ride home in case of an emergency, a prepaid fuel card and discounts on vehicle rentals for personal use, among other benefits.
"It is important for me to educate commuters about using vanpools as a viable commute option," Hughes said. "People have saved more than 40 percent off their monthly expenses and have been able to re-allocate the extra money toward savings for living expenses, children's education or to pay off debt. In today's economy, it is especially important for people to know their options for saving money."
Clean Air Campaign
The Clean Air Campaign is a nonprofit organization working with the Georgia Department of Transportation to provide incentives and resources for Georgia commuters to go green. They offer information and rewards for any type of green commute, including carpooling, teleworking, bicycling, walking, mass transit and, of course, vanpooling.
Funk shared some statistics, provided by The Clean Air Campaign, to show that green commutes are "a win-win" for everyone.
"The cost to drive alone in your own car costs you at least 56 cents per mile in gas, tires, maintenance, wear and tear, depreciation and ownership expenses," he said.
"The savings from carpooling even two to three times a week could buy enough groceries to feed a family of four for three months. It helps with The Clean Air Campaign. It helps the Soldier. And it doesn't cost them anything. Those are all good things."
To download an application for the benefit program, visit www.benning.army.mil/garrison/masstransit. Bring a copy of the printed application to Suite 5900 in Building 4.
DoD civilians and service members interested in joining a Columbus Shuttle Service vanpool should contact Funk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-987-0941. For more information, visit www.columbusshuttleservice.com.
To find out more on Enterprise RideShare, visit vanpool.com or contact Hughes directly at 770-821-0094.
To get in touch with vRide, contact Allen Feather, national account executive, at 800-VAN-RIDE or 770-427-7665, ext. 6106.