Mainers who commute long distances to and from work and are looking to save a few dollars on gas and wear and tear on their vehicles may want to consider an expanding state program that’s a cost-effective alternative to driving your own car every day.
GO MAINE, the statewide commuter services program sponsored by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority, is about to expand its van-pooling program.
Van pooling is similar to carpooling, but uses the state’s nine 12-passenger vans to get people to and from popular origins and destinations.
The online ride matching system currently has 106 commuters using the program, but is planning to purchase additional vans and expand the number of participating locations.
“We have two empty seats at this moment and a long waiting list,” said GO MAINE Manager Carey Kish.
Public comment is being sought about what new and additional routes are needed.
“We’ve got 730 responses to date and we’re allowing this market-driven survey to determine where these new routes will be rather than guessing where service needs to be,” Kish said Friday. “We’re gathering a lot of good data from people.”
The Greater Portland Council of Governments administers GO MAINE. There currently are nine vans owned by DOT and administered by GO MAINE, and the plan is to buy 11 new ones. There also are three spare vans in case one needs to be taken out of rotation for repairs.
The van pool now offers transportation to the capital region of Augusta from the Portland and Lewiston-Auburn areas.
“The Bangor area [has been noted] as both an origin and a destination,” Kish said, noting that there also has been an interest from the Ellsworth region.
In addition to the state-owned vans, 12 private vans are registered in the program.
“These are private individuals who own and operate their own van pool,” Kish said. Most of them travel primarily to Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
By being registered, the operators can take advantage of GO MAINE marketing and also the program’s guaranteed ride home for unforeseen emergencies.
The guaranteed ride isn’t for planned events, such as doctor’s appointments, but can be used in case of illness or if you have to work late.
“We have a contract with Enterprise Rent-A-Car,” Kish said. “They’d come pick you up, you’d drive the car home, and take it back the next day for free.”
The emergency ride is available two times a month or eight times per year.
“It’s a bonus and people do use it and are very happy that it’s there for them,” Kish said.
There are also perks to being the driver of the van: They are not professional drivers, but rather someone who is selected from the group of commuters.
“The primary driver rides for free in return,” Kish said.
The driver also can take the vehicle home at night.
The idea of van pooling is to start out at a common location, such as a park-and-ride lot.
“We want to limit the number of stops so that it is still efficient,” Kish said.
Rates for van-pool commuters haven’t been raised in 18 months, and Kish anticipates about a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in price, but said it still will be “very reasonable.”
“Given the cost of operating a car, it’s a pretty good deal,” he said. “This is not a money-making operation.”
Current pricing on the Portland to Augusta van pool is $115 per month.
“Gas alone will cost you more than double that $115 today, never mind the wear and tear on your car,” Kish said.
As for the new routes, the cost won’t be determined until the surveying is completed and the exact routes are established.
“We do not intend to overlap any existing service,” Kish said, adding that all survey information will be shared with other transit programs in the state before any decision is made.
“We all understand that van pools are going to play a bigger part as the future unfolds,” he said.
To participate in the van-pool survey, go to www.gomaine.org/ vanpool. For more information, call (800) 280-RIDE.