By Rachel PonderJuly 22, 2011
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., July 26, 2011 -- As gas prices rise, motorists at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., are increasingly turning to vanpooling as a way to save.
Also on the rise are the number of Aberdeen Proving Ground vanpools -- tallying 18 since they started in 2007.
And there are no signs of slowing up, according to Syreeta Gross of the Base Realignment and Transformation Office. Gross said based on the number of inquiries her office receives for information on starting vanpools, she expects the number of local pools to grow.
“Aside from the inherent savings of sharing commuting expenses with other people, the mass transportation benefit program provides up to $230 per month to federal employees and active military members to offset mass transit expenses, including vanpools, buses and trains,” Gross said. “Additionally, riders don’t have to worry about the wear and tear on their vehicles and some don’t even have to worry about driving.”
Gross said anyone who is interested in joining a vanpool can sign up with Commuter Connections at http://www.mwcog.org/commuter2/, a site that helps link people interesting in ridesharing.
“If you pass the same person in traffic, arrive to work at the same, then leave at the same time, you may have found a rideshare partner,” Gross said. “Find three more and you have enough for a vanpool.
“Then you need to talk with a vanpool company, one of the most recognizable is VPSI,” said Gross. “Lastly, once you have enough people and a van, then call me, the mass transit subsidy program point of contact, and I can start processing the application to receive the subsidy.”
Nnenna Ewing, an electrical engineer with Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, lives in Baltimore County and calls vanpooling a “blessing” because it helps her save $300 to $400 monthly. As a government employee, Ewing receives the commuting subsidy and ultimately her commute to work is free.
Ewing decided to organize a vanpool last year after hearing that gas prices were expected to rise. She let people know she was starting a vanpool through word of mouth, emails and meetings. The company that she uses, VSPI, requires a minimum of seven people to start a vanpool and a vanpool coordinator.
“I asked around to see if people were interested. At first it was difficult to convince people to vanpool. People did not want to give up their independence and depend on other people for rides,” Ewing said. “But as gas prices continued to rise, people became interested.”
Ewing said the time she spent organizing the vanpool was well worth it.
“I experience less stress now because I only have to fill up my vehicle every two weeks. When I was driving myself I was filling my car up twice a week,” she said. “I recommend the program to everyone who is getting eaten alive by gas prices,” she said. “This program really makes a difference.”
James Csogi, a Department of Defense contractor from New Jersey, said his decision to use a vanpool was a no-brainer.
“I have a house [in New Jersey] and I didn’t want to move my kids,” said Csogi. “Using a vanpool is the best option for me. I pay about $300 dollars a month to use the vanpool, which is less than I would spend in gas per month and I don’t have to worry about wear and tear on my car.”
Csogi acts as vanpool coordinator. Every week he makes up a driving schedule so that the driving responsibility is shared by everyone. He also keeps track of who rides in the vanpool each day, and collects money at the end of the month.
“It takes some work, but the pros far outweigh the cons,” he said. “So far, everyone in my vanpool has done a great job communicating with me. During the day, if we need a ride on or off post, we can either take the van or get a ride with coworkers. If an emergency comes up and I have to go home early there is a program called Guaranteed Ride Home that provides four free rides for mass transit commuters per year.”
“I think vanpooling is great,” added Renee Ullman, a CECOM employee who also lives in New Jersey. “It is the best of both worlds because it allows us to keep our jobs and lets us live where we want to live. It is also cost effective and environmentally friendly.”
“I wanted to continue to work for my company, PM Radars, so I can continue to give Soldiers the support they need,” said Vernetta Mitchelle, from New Jersey. “Everyone in the vanpool has different situations, but we work together to make it work. We are like a little community.”