A group chartered to enact a study for improving commuting options and reducing congestion on Interstate 380 wants to seek state grants to subsidize a regional van pool run by a contractor.
The Corridor Commuter Transportation Steering Committee recommended, during a meeting last week in Cedar Rapids. that the East Central Iowa Council of Governments oversee the van pool program.
“ECICOG has been the coordinating entity since we started,” said Brent Paulsen, a technology and research manager for the Iowa Department of Transportation. He cited its experience with providing contracted transportation and its track record with already providing transportation in the area.
A van pool is a coordinated arrangement in which employees residing and working in similar areas share a ride to save money.
Leadership of ECICOG is on the steering committee and supports the plan. ECICOG plans to apply this fall for grants through the Iowa Clean Air Attainment Program and State Transportation Assistance Program, both of which are administered by the DOT.
If awarded, the grants would cover nearly the entire cost for the van pool program for three years. Costs would scale up from $136,000 in the first year to $144,282 in year three, based on a 20 van, 12-passenger per van system, according to presentation by Paulsen.
The specific details in the presentation aren’t set in stone, Paulsen noted. A local match would increase from $5,440 in year one to $28,856 in year three. Passengers each would pay $60 a month, on average, but cost would vary based on travel distances and the number of participants.
“There’s the issues of the local match over three years, which to an extent I think we could help address at least in the first two years,” said Doug Elliott, executive director of ECICOG.
If the grants are awarded, ECICOG would then seek bids for a contractor to run the van pool in a public-private partnership. The service would provide vans, recruit drivers and coordinate rides, Paulsen said.
“That’s a low maintenance start up, and your costs are covered through a contact with them,” Paulsen said.
He said the hope is to have the service running by November 2016.
Michelle Ribble, who works on the University of Iowa’s decades-old van pool and serves on the steering committee, said the approach makes sense.
“I think 20 vans might be optimistic, but if they don’t fold — they’re hard to start — but once they start they are hard to break,” Ribble said.
The committee is using the 2014 Iowa Commuter Transportation Study commissioned by the Iowa DOT as a road map for its efforts. The study also recommended intercity express bus service with stops in Cedar Rapids, North Liberty, Coralville and Iowa City, and an online ride share network.
Paulsen said bids for the contract to provide the ride share program came in four times as much as budgeted, so they will seek new offers with a more limited scope of service.
Jennifer Roberts, a passenger planner with the Iowa DOT, said the committee recommends not applying for grants this year for the intercity bus service because the van pool program will be seeking similar grants.