Tri-Cities big on carpooling

By Pratik Joshi, Herald staff writerOctober 13, 2010 

The Tri-Cities has the largest percentage of carpoolers in the Northwest.

That's according to a recent Sightline Institute report that looked at how people commute to work across towns and cities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Cities where people drive themselves to work tend to do better in the carpooling category, the report says.

Last year, about 15.5 percent of Tri-Citians carpooled to work, said Eric de Place, who compiled the data from information in the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

That's a marginal increase, he said. The area's carpooling rate from 2006-08 was about 15.1 percent, said de Place, senior researcher at Sightline, an independent think-tank focusing on sustainable land use, transportation, energy consumption and human well-being.

Of all Tri-Citians ages 16 and up going to work, about 1.6 percent use public transit, 1.6 percent walk, 0.2 percent bike, and 4 percent work from home, according to the report, which lists Eugene, Ore., as the top spot for cycling to work, Bellingham for walking to jobs and Seattle for the highest use of public transit.

The report is a snapshot of what's happening in various communities, de Place said. It shows people are exploring alternative means of transportation, he said.

"Seattle and Portland tend to get all the limelight, but many of the Northwest's smaller cities are the ones that are actually leading the way in commute trip alternatives," de Place said.

People may use public transportation or carpool to save money or for their commitment to promote a sustainable environment by taking their vehicles off the road, said Terry DeJuan, rideshare supervisor at Ben Franklin Transit.

The demand for vanpooling in the Tri-Cities has been growing, DeJuan said, with at least 50 groups on the transit system's vanpool waiting list. BFT recently added 30 new vans and 13 used vans to its pool of 319 vans to address increased demand. The additional fleet will be on the road by year end, DeJuan said.

Vanpooling is an old story for John Smith of Richland, who has been in a vanpool for 15 years. It's 35 miles each way from his home to his work in the 200 West Area at Hanford, he said.

He joined the program initially to save on gas money but soon realized there are multiple benefits, including less wear-and-tear on the highway and his car. His group keeps at least 10 cars off the road, which also means fewer emissions, he said. It costs about $63.50 a month, which he estimates saves him about $80 in gas money.

DeJuan said more than 860,000 vanpool boardings have been reported this year as of Aug. 31. Vanpool vehicles also logged about 3.4 million miles in the same period. For all of last year, more than 1.2 million boardings were reported, with almost 4.9 million miles traveled, DeJuan said.

Of the 319 vans in service, 99 go to the vitrification plant in Richland, and 125 take workers to other Hanford projects, he said.

Many workers employed at Umatilla Chemical Depot, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell and at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla also use the vanpool system, he said.

BFT owns a variety of vans that can transport six to 15 passengers. Ridership is about nine people per van, DeJuan said, and costs $65 to $75 a month for most riders.

For more information about vanpooling, call 943-5442.

w Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; pjoshi@tricity

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