Forty years after the first vanpools started in Seattle in 1979, King County Metro’s publicly-owned and operated commuter van program leads the nation for having the most public vanpools. Today and this month we celebrate this important milestone in public transit history four decades in the making and dubbed VANniversary.
What started as a small King County Metro fleet of 21 and 189 riders in 1979 is now the nation’s largest public fleet of vanpools, carrying 11,000 riders and drivers in 2018 in 1,600 vans each day. People working for major employers across the region commute safely and reliably every day to keep our economy strong and address our climate crisis by reducing the number of cars on the road.
“For forty years, our reliable vanpool service has saved commuters money, reduced traffic congestion, and strengthened communities,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “We now operate the nation’s largest public vanpool fleet, making it convenient for commuters to share rides, take public transit, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Public commuter van riders, on average, take six single-occupancy vehicles off the road each weekday, which annually reduces 48 million vehicle miles, saves more than 2 million gallons of fuel and prevents 50 million pounds of greenhouse gas from entering our atmosphere—that’s 22 million metric tons.
“Vanpooling has grown exponentially in the region in the last four decades, reducing traffic on the region’s toughest, most-congested commutes by an estimated 11,000 vehicles every workday,” said King County Metro General Manager Rob Gannon. “We want to continue to see growth in ridership on this key commute option as a critical part of the region’s goals to support mobility, sustainability and address our climate crisis.”
Growing the number of vanpools is critical to the Puget Sound region, which hosts the largest number of public vanpool group but also has some of the greatest traffic challenges. In this region, vanpool fare coverage is often subsidized by employers as part of their benefits packages to recruit, keep, and provide additional transportation options for their employees who live and work in and around King County’s metropolitan area.
“The success in this region has been due to our top employers supporting ridesharing and subsidizing employee vanpool fares,” said King County Metro Mobility Division Director Chris O’Claire. “Our hats are off to them and to the cities and transportation partners who help us in this effort.”
The most recent commute survey conducted by Commute Seattle—a transportation management association in downtown Seattle—and the Seattle Department of Transportation, showed that just 25 percent of commuters traveling into downtown Seattle are driving alone during peak morning times (6-9 a.m.). This shows a drop of five percentage points in just one year showing that access to transit passes and ridesharing benefits can make a big impact on drive-alone rates. While jobs are up, drive-alone rates have shown a downward trend the past ten years. Transit and rideshare options are big draws for commuters and will continue to be the trend.
“It just makes sense that public vanpools are popular in our region,” said Mark Hallenbeck, Director of the Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC) office and engineering professor at University of Washington in Seattle. “You have long distances, multiple employers and various choices—the vanpool one-seat ride is hard to beat and it can maneuver in even the densest neighborhoods, picking up commuters along the route.”
Hallenbeck added that when you pair the sustainability and affordability of public vanpools with employers who provide vanpool subsidies and parking benefits, you have public transportation at its best.
King County Metro and our regional and statewide public transit vanpool providers will continue to celebrate the VANniversary with events and activities throughout the year as we thank our participants, our employers and increase education and awareness of the importance and sustainability of public commuter vans.