Commuters jumping into van pools

HOUSTON You've heard of carpooling and riding the bus, but another option is van pooling.

In the last 60 days, METRO has seen a dramatic increase as 400 new riders have signed on.

It's just after 6am and some commuters are heading to work. Not in their cars, but rather by boarding a van at the Addicks Park and Ride. The van leaves at 6:30 on the dot headed for two businesses along Allen Parkway.

Tim Alexander, the van coordinator and driver, wanted to organize a pool for a while, but never had much response until now. This group has only been up and running for a month and it is already seeing green.

There are 14 fulltime riders on the van. It costs about $300 a month in gas. Once you add in the cost of leasing the van, it costs about $60 for each rider a month to ride.

Tim leases the van and is the main driver. He has a backup driver in case he's not there. Tim then recruited riders and METRO found others from a nearby business to fill the bus. Once they're on the HOV lane, it only takes 20 minutes and he's pulling up to his first drop off. Just minutes later he's at work.

Jo Lynn Snipes has tried METRO, car pooling and driving her own van. She says the van saves her more time, gas, wear on the car and stress.

"We're nice when we get to work," she said.

But there are some problems. If a van pool falls below five passengers, METRO takes back the van. Some riders also expressed concern about being without a car all day, especially if they have small children.

"One of the things that is really great about the van pool is you are allowed three emergency rides per year and a taxi comes within 20 minutes and takes you to your car," a rider told us.

On the plus side, some employers offer incentives and even pick up the entire tab for their employees van riders. We found commuters on a private service van headed to the Medical Center that ride free. And METRO offers $35 dollars off an individual's lease fee, if you ride at least 12 days a month.

It's another alternative as gas prices are moving closer to $4 a gallon.

Van pooling is an idea for commuters not going into downtown Houston too. The service is available to take riders to several other cities including Sugar Land, The Woodlands and Galveston

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