Long before being green meant something other than looking seasick or hailing from Mars, my father carpooled with some other dads from our suburban town to the big city. It turns out my father was ahead of his time. These days, carpooling has become more organized and sophisticated, sporting fancy names like commuter services, ride sharing and even vanpooling. In fact, in car-congested areas such as Los Angeles and Orange County in Southern California, ridesharing options such as vanpools are becoming as trendy as taco trucks.
What’s so cool about vanpools?
Of all the ridesharing options, vanpooling seems to be the coolest way to commute in groups, far more hip than cramming one’s body into that Flinstonian relic of the 20th Century, the city bus. In the Los Angeles Metro vanpool program, most vanpools ferry from seven to fifteen people to work in a cool, comfortable van, a vehicle usually owned by one of the van’s commuters who receives a discount in exchange for use of his or her van. (In some cases, vanpooling vans are provided by large employers or are leased by companies that specialize in leasing vans for vanpooling.)
How to find a vanpool in Southern California
A group of five Southern California transportation agencies created a user-friendly website (click here) to make it easy for Los Angeles, Orange County and other Southern California commuters to find a seat in an existing vanpool. Potential vanpoolers plug in the zip code of their home, how far they are willing to drive to catch the van and the zip code of their job, and-just as with a dating website like eHarmony or Match.com-they are “matched” with compatible vanpools.
So, how much money can you really save by vanpooling?
Although it may feel great to know you are making a smaller carbon footprint and saving as much as an hour of driving time each day that you can use to exercise or read a book, the most tangible benefit of vanpooling could be the extra money you’ll save-free cash with which you can go out to dinner or pay off debt or even stash away for your retirement.
Using the Commuter Cost Calculator provided on the CommuteSmart.info website (click here), I plugged in the following data to see how much money a hypothetical Los Angeles or Orange County commuter could save by sharing a ride. (Savings for vanpooling could be even higher.)
Sample commute data:
Daily round trip commute: 60 miles
How many days per month do you normally work? 22
How many miles per gallon does your automobile average? 25
How much per gallon do you normally pay for gasoline? $3.00
How much do you pay for monthly parking? $50
Calculated savings of ridesharing / vanpooling:
Your estimated Monthly cost of commuting alone is: $768.48
Your estimated Yearly cost of commuting alone is: $9221.76
Your estimated Savings per year by commuting with 1 person is: $4610.88
Your estimated Savings per year by commuting with 3 people is: $6916.32
Hidden benefit of vanpooling
A final benefit of vanpooling in Southern California is the chance to meet new people. You will likely make some new friends by sharing a van with the same group of people each day, and, who knows?-you may even find romance. The ridesharing website for San Luis Obispo, a community north of Los Angeles, features the story of a vanpooling couple who evolved from strangers to friends-to husband and wife. Atop their wedding cake was (what else?) a vanpool van!