Optimizing vanpool initiatives to meet regional transportation goals

Optimizing vanpool initiatives to meet regional transportation goals
By Modou Cham, Tim Lewis, and David McMaster
Jun 23, 2023
Vanpool programs encourage cost-effective shared rides, reducing the number of vehicles on the road while providing an essential option for commuters

Vanpooling services are valuable for agencies and organizations looking to meet transportation, air quality, and equity goals. Travel demand management (TDM) strategies can help manage existing transportation services and infrastructure capacity, improve climate outcomes, and minimize costs to build or rebuild infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many vanpool services due to shifting work habits—including work-from-home and hybrid schedules—as well as reduced public transportation and increased demand for essential services and workers. As employees continue to navigate a changing labor market, vanpools can help agencies and organizations reach their regional transportation goals by cutting overall commute costs, reducing single-occupancy vehicle travel, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

For agencies and organizations to better leverage their vanpool programs and meet goals, comprehensive studies help provide a basis for strategizing, decision-making, and funding. 

Evaluating the Metro Vanpool Program for the Twin Cities

To understand the state of vanpooling and the Metro Vanpool program, the Metropolitan Council for the Twin Cities in Minnesota needed a comprehensive study to deliver baseline metrics and insight. Working directly with the Metropolitan Council and their stakeholders, we conducted an evaluation to understand gaps in their Metro Vanpool program, identify areas of improvement, and develop strategies to increase vanpool ridership across the Twin Cities region.

Through a comprehensive analysis, including evaluation of engagement, mapping, and management tools, we provided clear insight into the existing conditions of the Metro Vanpool program and agency practices. ICF also interviewed peer agencies for comparable takeaways regarding rider adoption, employer subsidies, and pre-tax benefits for successfully expanding vanpool initiatives. 

Our team of experts provided the Metropolitan Council with 28 recommendations focusing on program administration, employer relations, software, and marketing. This includes recommendations to address equity initiatives within the program, such as reviewing funding opportunities to make the vanpool more affordable, reviewing transit assistance programs for applicability and ideas, developing a program specifically to reduce costs for lower-income populations, and creating stability and transparency of total monthly expenses.

How to adopt, scale, or alter vanpool services

Vanpool services can provide a sustainable and cost-effective solution to transportation challenges in many communities, but it’s essential to identify issues before making a plan. 

That’s why it’s critical to conduct a study to gain insight into a program's potential effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. A study should cover topics such as the community's transportation needs, the availability of infrastructure, administrative capabilities, potential employer or stakeholder buy-in, and cost. 

Using a vanpool program requires careful consideration of several factors, including:

  1. Administrative capabilities: National Transportation Database (NTD) reporting is a crucial administrative responsibility for Metro Vanpool and customers, which is critical to receiving subsidy money that makes vanpools more affordable. 
  2. Pricing structure: Cost is one of the most critical factors to consider when implementing a vanpool program. When evaluating the existing conditions for Metro Vanpool, we discovered 32 unique vanpool pricing points depending on the number of passengers, monthly mileage, and size of van rental.
  3. Stakeholder buy-in: Successful vanpool programs require buy-in from various stakeholders, including employers, government officials, and agencies. Engaging stakeholders early in the process and addressing their concerns is crucial to ensure support.
  4. Equity considerations: Addressing accessibility, affordability, and geographic distribution is crucial to provide equal opportunities for vanpoolers. Evaluation of program services in reaching underserved communities, low-income individuals, and those with limited transportation options is fundamental. Vanpool programs that promote equity can help increase participation, reduce transportation disparities, and improve mobility options for disadvantaged communities. 
  5. Marketing plan: An effective marketing plan can enhance a vanpool program by increasing awareness and visibility among potential participants. Through targeted marketing campaigns, the program can reach out to specific demographics with information on how vanpools can help them save costs, reduce the stress of commuting, and benefit the environment. By utilizing various marketing channels, such as online platforms, social media, email newsletters, and partnerships with employers and local organizations, the program can attract a wider audience and generate interest in vanpooling. 

Once a vanpool program is implemented or adjusted, it's important to monitor its effectiveness continually for long-term planning and decision-making. Consistent evaluation allows agencies to identify issues hindering the program's success and make necessary adjustments. 

Finding the right partner is crucial to build or improve a vanpool program's effectiveness for scale. Our deep bench of transportation experts draws from cross-industry experience to deliver results that drive success. 

Meet the authors
  1. Modou Cham, Senior Sustainable Mobility Specialist
  2. Tim Lewis, Director, Transportation & Smart Mobility
  3. David McMaster, Senior Outreach Manager

Subscribe to get our latest insights