Keys to success; Ex-shuttle riders start van pool service
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Galen Williams (left) and Patricia Stone, along with others, relax while riding the van pool from Nashua, N.H., to Hanscom Aug. 24. More than 50 riders are participating in van pools as a way to be financially and environmentally friendly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rick Berry)
Posted 9/8/2011 Updated 9/8/2011
by Peter Blackburn
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
9/8/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Rising gas prices and concerns about the environment have gotten many employees to rethink their daily commute to and from the workplace. After one commuting opportunity closed for commuters from New Hampshire, a group of employees put their heads together to come up with another solution.
Earlier this summer, a shuttle service that had been running between Hanscom and Nashua, N.H., was cancelled because rising fuel costs made it no longer economically feasible for the company providing the service to continue.
Bill Cashman, Bobbi Weathers, Trent Givens and Andy Manvell, along with other regular shuttle riders, still knew they could receive up to $230 a month through the Mass Transportation Benefit Voucher program -- which the Department of Defense supports -- for participating in a commuting program, so they started looking for an alternative.
"I have been riding the Transaction Associates shuttle since three months after they started the service," said Mr. Manvell, a source selection consultant from Electronic Systems Center Acquisitions office. "It made sense to participate environmentally and financially, but Transaction Associates was simply not able to generate enough riders or revenue to keep running the shuttle, so they made a logical business decision to discontinue service."
Mr. Manvell and the others wanted to make sure any alternative was cost effective. For example, the Nashua shuttle was empty traveling from Hanscom to Nashua to pick up the 6 a.m. riders, full traveling back to Hanscom, and then empty traveling back to Nashua to pick up the next group of riders, and so on. Overall, the shuttle made eight trips a day, with only four carrying passengers.
The conscientious commuters wanted to see if they could find a solution where fewer trips were made and commuters were onboard during each trip.
A van pool seemed to be just the answer and upwards of 50 riders have since signed up, running four vans between Nashua and Hanscom. So far riders say it has been working out great.
"I had formed car pools in the past, but they ultimately broke up," said Mr. Cashman, an engineer from the C2ISR Directorate. "It would be premature to declare success since we just began in July; nevertheless, to date van pooling has been a positive experience."
The riders suggest mutual respect among van mates is essential to the long term viability of the van pool. Van B members signed up to a set of rules of conduct.
"You've got to figure out if you want music or not, for example," said Galen Williams, 66th Air Base Group safety director. "In our van pool, we've also asked people to hold off putting on cologne or perfume until after they get in the office."
He also added that safety is paramount for his van pool.
"We take turns driving and all of our drivers are certified," Mr. Williams said. "The drivers don't talk on a cell phone while driving. They also don't eat or drink. We want to ensure safe driving standards."
The riders leased out vans themselves from a company called VPSI, with individual vans running at their own particular times and destinations. Each of the vans has a single coordinator who manages the bills and takes the van in for periodic service. Riders cover gas and maintenance costs with vouchers and alternate driving the van.
With the new van pool the cost is a little more than $170 a month per rider. Not having to pay for a professional driver also helps keep costs down.
"We pass the transportation vouchers to VPSI to make the monthly lease payments, part of which are funds they place on a special debit card that we use to keep the van fueled," said Mr. Manvell. "It sounds complicated, but in practice it all works smoothly."
The riders also make sure to point out the big picture.
"Between the four vans there are 51 seats, so if we are replacing 51 cars with four vans on the highway, it's our small contribution to easing the traffic jams on Route 3 every day.
"When we leave the commuter parking lot in Nashua every day and look back at all the parked cars, we can't help but appreciate the benefits of taking all of those cars off the highway every day. Not only does it reduce traffic, but it promotes a greener means of transportation," he said.
Another benefit is the reduction of stress, according to some of the riders.
When Mr. Givens, an engineer with the ESC Engineering office, was participating in a van pool when he worked at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., he would nap to and from work. He continued the commuting option when he moved to Hanscom.
"It is a great way to commute, especially when you get a group that can agree on the rules and can joke around," he said.
Mr. Williams agrees and says he has time to download from the day on the way home.
The van poolers are also connected to a program called MASSRides. Part of the program provides commuters with a free ride home in case of an emergency. There is another program called NuRide, which gives the riders credits for every mile they van pool. The credits can be redeemed for discounts at restaurants, sporting events, theme parks and more.
Overall, the riders consider their new van pool service to be financially and environmentally friendly, convenient and a beneficial alternative to the Nashua shuttle. The van poolers want to encourage other commuters to take advantage of the alternative commuting options and help increase the number of available parking spots at Hanscom.
"It doesn't have to be from Nashua - anyone can do this if they get enough people to agree on locations and times," Mr. Manvell said. "It wasn't that hard for us, there are even websites for people to connect. There are more reasons why people should do this than why they shouldn't, so why not consider it?"
Although the four van pools operating to and from Hanscom use VPSI, there are many energy-saving commuter options.
"Using this service is virtually free," said Mr. Williams. "People commuting from the western part of the state, Rhode Island, Connecticut, the north shore or south shore should look into it. I know that's where we have a lot of folks commuting from."
Anyone interested in learning more about commuting options may contact the Commuter Management office at 781-377-2904 or 781-377-7950.