Va Va Va Vanpool! Rural Communities Get Smart About Public Transit

My colleagues at the Smarter Cities project have just put together a terrific report on America’s Smartest Regions for Transportation. The big cities are in there, of course, where public transit systems like New York’s carry 8 million passengers a day.  But also included in the top 15 are semi-rural areas, such as Bremerton, Washington. A lot of people don’t realize that rural areas could also get much-needed transportation funding in the President’s new budget proposal. At least 3 programs in the Obama Administration's proposed transportation bill would provide support for rural transit agencies to upgrade equipment and vehicles, make capital investments and develop new transit projects to reach more people.

Rural areas desperately need public transit, and federal funding can help these communities develop solutions that work for their widespread populations. Towns like Bremerton have got it right, bringing down the cost of living for residents, creating jobs, and curbing global warming pollution.

One of the coolest things about Bremerton, just across the Puget Sound from Seattle, is vanpooling – a great transit solution for semirural areas with regular commuters. Vans can be pretty fuel-efficient (especially after new standards being drafted by DOT and EPA, as described by my colleague Luke Tonachel), and of course, carry more people than a car. In Bremerton, commuters can register online to start or join a vanpool. They designate a driver and pay fares in advance – the transit authority provides the van and the gas. Vanpoolers save an estimated $5,000 each year, and usually enjoy a shorter commute because they can use designated carpool lanes. The transit authority runs about 100 vanpools, serving more than 800 commuters.

What a great option for people who want to save money and don’t have access to a bus or train. More communities across America should have a chance to develop a system like this. It’s exactly the kind of low-cost, big-return investment that Congress should be supporting, not cutting.