Vanpools consist of five to fifteen commuters traveling on the same schedule. Vanpools pick riders up at their residence or at a designated gathering place, such as a park and ride lot. Vanpools typically travel to a single employment hub or worksite.
Vanpools encourage high occupancy, high frequency ridesharing during peak commute hours. Vanpools largely serve people commuting relatively long distances from residential communities to employment centers. Vanpools can be identified by rideshare license plates and the distinctive designs on the vans.
Vanpools typically operate on a set schedule, traveling from their origin to their destination with the same group of riders each work day. Most vanpools originate at designated locations where riders congregate, such as a park and pool lot, while some may have multiple pick-up locations and even pick up some riders at their home. Most vanpools travel to destinations where riders work, often to an employment center or single worksite. Some vanpools make interim stops to pick up or drop off passengers.
Because vanpools operate on a set schedule, riders sometimes need a contingency transportation option to ensure that they can get home in the event of an unanticipated change in plans (e.g. sick child, need to work late). For this reason, many vanpool groups prefer to meet at park and rides with robust transit service and vanpooling is often paired with guaranteed or emergency ride home programs.
Commuters join vanpools and commit to ride on a regular basis. Commuters pay a monthly fare to the public transit agency that provides the van. In some cases, an employer subsidizes all or part of their employees monthly vanpool fare.
In all vanpools, one of the vanpool participants serves as a primary driver, one or more as back-up drivers, and at least one as a bookkeeper. The bookkeeper serves as a liaison between the public transit agency that provides the van and the members of the vanpool. The bookkeeper also ensures that members pay their monthly fare and completes required monthly reporting.
In Washington, vanpools are operated predominantly by public transit agencies and are considered a form of public transportation. Washington has the largest public vanpool fleet in the nation. Each workday, more than 18,000 commuters ride in more than 3,000 public agency vanpools. These vanpools improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the number of cars on the road.
When to use this strategy
Vanpools address traffic congestion during commute hours.
Vanpools are available throughout the urbanized areas of Washington. The following public transit agencies offer vanpools (each agency’s home county is in parenthesis):
- Asotin Transit (Asotin)
- Ben Franklin Transit (Benton)
- Clallam Transit (Clallam)
- Community Transit (Snohomish)
- C-Tran (Clark)
- Garfield County (Garfield)
- Grant Transit (Grant)
- Grays Harbor Transit (Grays Harbor)
- Intercity Transit (Thurston)
- Island Transit (Island)
- King County Metro (King)
- Pierce Transit (Pierce)
- Skagit Transit (Skagit)
- Spokane Transit (Spokane)
- Whatcom Transit (Whatcom)
 A public transit agency’s service area may extend beyond its home county.
At least one leg of the vanpool trip must originate or terminate within the service area of the public transit agency that provides the van. In the central Puget Sound region, vanpool commuters may choose among multiple agencies depending upon their origin and destination.
Additionally, vanpools work best when many of the following are present:
- High occupancy vehicle and/or express toll lanes.
- Notable numbers of commuters who make trips from suburbs to employment centers on set schedules.
- Employers who are engaged in commute trip reduction and are willing to provide subsidies.
- Park and ride lots with robust transit service.
- Emergency or guaranteed ride home service.
- Employment hubs with limited transit service
- Gaps in transit between employment hubs and residential areas.
What you need in order to implement
- A market that includes a notable number of commuters traveling long distances between residential and employment centers during peak commute hours.
- A public transit agency that offers vanpools.
- Employers who offer commute trip reduction and/or commute subsidies.
Learn more about this strategy
Victoria Transport Policy Institute: Information about carpool, vanpool and other ridesharing methods, including services, subsidies and incentives.
Center for Urban Transportation Research: Information about rideshare price elasticity, effects of fares on mode choice, and effects of employer subsidies.
Best Workplaces for Commuters: Commuter benefit briefs on transit and vanpool benefits, vanpool programs, and other related topics.
About key characteristics
Vanpools do not sell themselves. Marketing, employer subsidies and travel advantages (e.g. high occupancy vehicle lanes and preferred parking) boost vanpool participation rates. These costs are ongoing to keep and grow vanpool ridership.
Plan to collaborate with vanpool providers (i.e., public transit agencies), employers and parking/facilities management when working to expand vanpools.