By Stephi Smith
Special to the Reporter
A new rideshare program has started up with King County Metro.
Community Van is a new pilot program part of Metro’s Community Connections that has three participating communities. According to its website, the intention is to develop innovative and cost-efficient transportation solutions in areas of King County that don’t have the infrastructure, density or land use to support regular, fixed-route bus service. These services are designed to help King County residents have multiple alternatives for traveling when bus service isn’t an option.
University of Washington Bothell community transportation coordinator Kristi Dreessen helped with the beginning stages of Community Van as it was implemented in Bothell and Woodinville.
Dreessen compared Community Van to a vanpool, in which a group of people ride to work together in a van provided by a public transit program.
Unlike a vanpool however, Community Van is meant for fun and recreational use, Dreessen said. For example, riders can set up a ride to Pike Place Market in Seattle. They will post about a ride on a certain day and others can sign up to ride in the van as well.
Each van ride requires a minimum of three people, two riders and a volunteer driver, and can fit up to six people.
The van has a flat fee of $2.50, which includes travel in both directions. Dreessen said this is a better alternative to the bus service, which requires payment in both directions and sometimes transfers. Community Van has less confusion with it, Dreessen said.
Victoria Tobin in Metro’s rideshare operations division said Community Van allows for shared trips to and from locations that public transit doesn’t offer. This allows for a more connected community, she said.
Dreessen said that the biggest challenge with the new program is finding volunteer drivers. The Woodinville and Bothell Community Van has four drivers who sign up for different time slots.
“With the program growing, the driver pool will have to be large with it,” Dreessen said.
Dreessen said she’s trying to recruit more people to sign up and volunteer.
To help with outreach and share news of the program, Dreessen said she’s already given a presentation to the Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce in front of more than 100 people. While there, she collected the contact information of people who had an interest in learning more about the program.
Community Van is used for a variety of a different recreational activities, ranging from driving to visit Pike Place to visiting Edmonds Beach.
“If I lived (in Bothell), I wouldn’t take the bus to the beach,” Dreessen said.
She said a number of UW Bothell students have also used the van for grocery shopping. This is more convenient than a bus as with grocery shopping, riders may have multiple bags with them and will not to be cramped on a bus, Dreessen said.
In addition, Community Van helps with sustainability. With at most six people in the vehicle, that’s up to five cars off the road, Dreessen explained.
“(The Community Van program) builds on our regional, collaborative and ridesharing mindset,” Tobin said. “Sharing the ride is good for community, economy and the environment.”
Dreessen said she wants to implement weekly recurring trips to locations such as a food bank or grocery stores.
She also said she’s very excited about this new program and the opportunities it may present for those who can’t rely on a bus system.
“I’m really excited about this, I want to generate some enthusiasm about this fantastic alternative transportation service,” Dreessen said.