Randii Smith likes the companionship she experiences in her West Michigan Rideshare van pool, especially during sketchy winter weather.
For Rich Strach, a main appeal of vanpooling is that, in his words, it “helps with the fatigue factor.”
Both Smith and Strach readily cite a number of other advantages to sharing a van for their commute to work in downtown Grand Rapids, including cost savings and helping the environment.
“I’m a big fan of it,” said Smith, of Howard City, who commutes 50 miles one way to her job at a private trust bank. “I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to do it.”
Adds Strach, a North Muskegon resident who lives 44 miles from the office where he works as a financial systems analyst, said that “it gives you that flexibility of just being able to ride in and maybe get some work done on the way.”
West Michigan Rideshare — a service administered by The Rapid, metro Grand Rapids’ public transportation agency — is available to residents of Kent, Ottawa and Allegan counties.
“We view it as another way to fulfill our primary mission — meeting the transportation needs of all Greater Grand Rapids residents,” said Michael Bulthuis, The Rapid’s public outreach coordinator of community engagement.
“Just as The Rapid’s standard bus service benefits the entire community — riders and nonriders alike — so does West Michigan Rideshare, by helping to lessen congestion on our roadways and reduce the amount of vehicle emissions into the environment,” Bulthuis added.
Sharing a ride, sharing the costs
In a nutshell, West Michigan Rideshare smooths the way for car poolers, van poolers and even bicyclists seeking people to ride with on their way to work.
More specifically, it serves essentially as a matchmaker for commuters who want to use their private automobiles or bikes, and also provides the vehicles for van poolers like Smith, Strach and their fellow riders. In addition, West Michigan Rideshare offers web-based software that helps employers design commuting programs for their workers.
Car and bike poolers may register with West Michigan Rideshare to find compatible commuters who live near them.
Those who do not want to commute in their own vehicles can take advantage of West Michigan Rideshare’s RapidVan vanpooling, which offers a shared ride to work for groups of at least four people who have similar commuting patterns. Not only does the Rideshare program provide the van, but it also supplies the maintenance, insurance, 24-hour emergency roadside service, carwashes and fuel. Van poolers also receive a prime downtown parking spot.
Riders — some of whom also serve as drivers — get all that for the per-van cost of $500 a month for commutes of less than 60 miles each way or $700 for one-way commutes exceeding 60 miles. The fees are split by riders, meaning the more people enrolled in a van pool, the lower the cost per person. And to keep costs as low as possible, The Rapid can add people to any existing van pool (up to the van’s seven-person capacity).
Smith’s van pool, for example, comprises four people, putting her monthly commuting bill at $125. “But the biggest thing for me is I’m not putting a minimum of 26,000 miles a year on my personal vehicle,” said Smith, who began vanpooling in early 2011.
Strength in numbers
Smith recalls her husband’s reaction after she told him about the West Michigan Rideshare amenities: “He said, ‘No way, it’s not real.’”
The service does carry some requirements. For instance, each van pool member must pay a security deposit and is obligated for three months, after which he or she may choose to drop out of the program.
In addition, all drivers are required to pass a drug/alcohol screen, criminal and driving background check and basic health exam, and provide a current Michigan driver’s license along with proof of personal insurance. All participants are welcome to apply for driver status, although some may choose to remain only a rider.
Strach — who joined his van pool about 10 years ago, when the price of gasoline was consistently hovering around $3 to $4 a gallon — enjoys being a passenger. Not only does it give him a chance to relax or handle some work, but it also offers him flexibility. For example, depending on his schedule, he’ll occasionally find it more convenient to drive by himself to work, or if he’s planning to meet up with his family in Grand Rapids for some after-work fun, he might vanpool to his office to avoid their having to deal with two vehicles.
Smith is her van pool’s primary driver, and she appreciates the “moral support and companionship” of her fellow commuters when navigating snowy and icy roads.
Employers, meanwhile, might value another aspect of vanpooling: “Other people are depending on you, and you tend to miss fewer days of work because of that,” Smith said.
More information on West Michigan Rideshare is available by calling 616-774-1188 or emailing [email protected]