Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

VRide wants to sell Washington, D.C. on the virtues of vanpooling

June 6, 2012 - 01:37 PM
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(Photo: vRide)

You may be familiar with carpooling, but let's talk about the lesser-known vanpooling for a second. Today a 35-year-old Michigan-based company that recently rebranded itself as "vRide" (formerly VPSI) hopes to let D.C. commuters know they have options beside their cars — and beside walking, the Metro, the bus, biking, Car2Go, Zipcar, pedicabs, taxicabs, slugging, and... Well, you know. D.C. has a lot of transportation options. But what we don't hear much about is a little concept called "vanpooling."

VRide touts itself as the world's largest vanpooling business with more than 6,000 vans in the U.S. and in the greater D.C. region more than 275 vRide vanpools of 3,000 commuters. The company estimates it will take 73,000 cars off the road in the D.C. area over the next two years and already supports organizations such as the FDA, NIH, and some military units. This June vRide hopes to raise awareness for their mode of transportation by traveling from city to city with a vRide van and promoting their "Don't Be an S.O.V." campaign. What's an S.O.V.? Single-occupant vehicle, of course. Today the vRide team is down at Farragut Square with campaign spokesperson Anjelah Johnson, a comedienne who gained prominence on MADtv. And why vanpool? The mode will save on transportation costs, the company contends, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly. A vanpooler's average costs run about $130 to $140 a month in the D.C. metro area, and that includes service and fuel.

"A part of being an S.O.V. is feeling like you have to have a car," said John Garcia, CFO of vRide. His company says that in today's world, you no longer need one while you're busy at work. Why take up parking space? VRide has an allowance for cabbing you away from the office a couple times a year if you're in dire need to leave early but overall, Garcia says, people don't need a personal automobile at all times, especially in a city like D.C.

The cross-country vanpooling campaign has gone well so far, according to the team in D.C. today. Johnson has reached out to the residents of these different cities, asked about their commuting patterns, and explained how vRide works in a fun, friendly outreach. They hope to repeat the success of a recent visit to Atlanta here in D.C. today.

"For the most part, people were having fun in front of the camera," Johnson told me this morning about the Atlanta visit. "A couple people felt guilty for not knowing [what vRide was]."

Each van typically holds eight to 10 people, and the vanpoolers all usually meet at one spot to join and begin their commute. Garcia stressed the interactivity of vanpooling — "it's kind of a little social network inside the van," he said — while acknowledging the greatest challenge is matching the commuters with similar routes. "The hardest part is finding people around you," he explained, although that difficulty would lessen as more people sign up. He remains confident in the company's matching capabilities and says that in the D.C. market, vanpooling is already a "good alternative," with vanpools coming from as far away as Richmond. Vanpools offer convenience as well as fun, Garcia said. A van can take advantage of the highway's high-occupancy vehicle lanes that solo commuters can't. Our greater region has clearly shown an affinity for the HOV lanes and their speed — the several thousand people who have embraced slugging as part of their Virginia-D.C. commutes are a testament to the power of HOV. The company also helps arrange carpools free of charge. D.C. currently features carpooling resources here and here. VRide's reinvention of vanpooling, however, may be a welcome and sensible addition to our transportation system, especiailly for those living away from public transportation stops and outside the core of the District. 

The vRide campaign's broader goals are ambitious — one million cars off the road by the end of 2013. The June campaign's goal is to create some initial awareness to that end. In addition to the city stops, vRide will run ads in Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. They tout big stats about their benefits, such as freeing the roadways of 6,000 car trips a day a reduction of 360,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Not too shabby if they're true. Look for Anjela Johnson and John Garcia out on the D.C. roads today to learn more and visit the company's site here.

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