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Van-pooling saves energy
Commuters on a van in Anchorage. (Courtesy photo)
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Van-pooling saves energy

Posted 10/22/2012   Updated 10/22/2012 Email story   Print story


by Staff Report
JBER Public Affairs

10/22/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Commuting to work can be a nice way to ease into the day. If you live outside Anchorage - or even if you don't - it can also be on slick roads, in the dark, and a great time to run into a moose.

With fuel prices reaching more than $4 per gallon, there's an alternative to driving that makes commuting easier, cheaper, and helps the environment.

Anchorage Share-A-Ride is a division of People Mover within the Municipality of Anchorage's Public Transportation Department, said Paula Kangis, Share-A-Ride manager.

Vanpooling is an excellent alternative to driving alone.

Auto ownership is one of the largest costs of living - fuel, maintenance and insurance can add up quickly, Kangis said.

Each van can take up to 12 cars off the road, which not only saves fuel and energy, it reduces traffic congestion and pollution.

The program has been used for years.

"People Mover has been providing fixed bus service since 1974; carpooling was added in the late 1970s and vanpooling in 1995," Kangis said. "We maintain a database of commuters interested in carpooling or vanpooling and [match] people traveling to work the same way and time."

The municipality of Anchorage started the Share-A-Ride program when officials saw the need for carpool matching services in the late 1970s, Kangis said.

Vanpooling was added in 1995 to help relieve the traffic congestion along the Glenn Highway.

Now, 63 vans are taking people to work; 32 come to JBER. Three go to Girdwood. There are more than 1,150 people who take the vans to work.

Some people are reluctant to participate, because there is a perception they won't be able to get home in case of an emergency. The program now provides emergency rides home in case of serious unforseen circumstances.

There is also the Try-A-Ride program, which allows people to try up to three rides.

Kangis pointed out that people unfamiliar with winter driving - especially in the dark - can avoid long drives by letting someone else do it.

Drivers receive certain benefits in exchange for driving, taking care of the vehicle, and collecting vouchers and money.

Commuters within the Anchorage and Mat-Su Borough areas, which includes Big Lake, Palmer, Wasilla, Eagle River, and Girdwood, are eligible to ride a van and federal employees, including service members, can receive vouchers to cut the cost of the service.

"I have taken advantage of the Share-A-Ride program since its inception," said Debra Davis, an Air Force civilian who works on JBER and has ridden a Share-A-Ride van since 1996. "I love the savings I enjoy by riding the van, it is like a huge pay raise. I easily save over $10,000 a year by riding our van."

Commuters can use the ride time to finish work in the vehicle or even nap; each van is equipped with individual overhead reading lights, individually-controlled heat and air vents and reclining seats.

Transit Tax benefits enable employers to provide low-cost or even no-cost benefits to employees, Kangis said. The average cost for vanpoolers without Transit Tax benefits (traveling 100 miles round-trip daily) is approximately $130 to $140 per month. With the Transit Tax benefit service members and civilian employees are eligible for, the cost drops to zero, Kangis said.

All fuel, operating, maintenance and insurance costs are paid for JBER riders.
Pick-up and drop-off points vary, but most vans traveling to JBER locations start the day at park-and-ride lots or retail stores in the Valley.

Parking at retail establishments requires advance authorization from the retailer's management, Kangis said. Those interested must first register online at or by calling 264-6732.

Using work hours and home and work addresses, Share-A-Ride managers run a check to see if any existing vanpools match an applicant's information.

"If not, we'll encourage you to start a new vanpool, which requires at least eight riders for the 13-passenger van," Kangis said.

"This number includes one primary driver and two alternate drivers."

There's plenty of room for more people.

"Share-A-Ride has more than a dozen new vans ready for new groups," Kangis said. "With recent program changes, there's never been a better time to start vanpooling.
Through Try-A-Ride, commuters can try vanpooling up to three times before committing. Commuters experiencing a qualified emergency now have a ride home."

It's easy to figure out how much vanpooling can save a person, Kangis said.
"We encourage people to use our driving-cost calculator at to see how much money they could be saving over the cost of driving alone," Kangis said. "Additional benefits include arriving at work relaxed without the stress of driving, reducing wear and tear on a personal vehicle, and the flexibility and reduction of one's carbon footprint."

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