Another very important aspect of insurance coverage is the background checks of drivers. Background checks must be completed on each driver of a vanpool and include a criminal and driving background check, a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) health exam, and drug and alcohol screen. All of The Rapid’s testing is done at a USDOT standard or higher and, to maintain continuity, The Rapid does not make exceptions or let anyone drive that does not meet or exceed the requirement for the RapidVan program. The program is designed with very few strict rules and policies, but each rule is enforced. The Rapid recently moved from a paper-based system of tracking to a Web-based vanpool module within GreenRide, which allows the vanpool department to digitally share information with human resources regarding the status of background checks.
Monitoring the Program
To protect the financial interests of The Rapid, many administrative guards were implemented to help eliminate potential misuse of the program. The first area of concern was fuel. The Rapid contracted with a local vendor, Fuel Management Systems/Pacific Pride, that has a system in place that protected both The Rapid and the RapidVan driver(s) with a two-card system; one card being assigned to the driver(s) with a confidential security code and one card assigned to the vehicle. Fuel can only be purchased with both cards present and the mileage must be entered at each purchase which is then reviewed for accuracy and reasonableness by The Rapid every two weeks. Michigan transit agencies do not pay tax on fuel which helps control costs. Fuel is included in the cost of all RapidVans.
Car washes are another area of possible abuse in the program. To manage this service The Rapid works with a local carwash vendor, Southland Autowash that barcodes each vehicle, so only program vehicles that have a bar code may receive car washes. Car washes are limited to two choices, outside only or interior vacuum, if needed. The Rapid can approve other services over the phone, if necessary e.g. carpet or seat shampooing.
Looking to the Future
The RapidVan program continues to adapt and grow with the changing needs of the participants and community. The program currently has about 100 participants and the attrition rate is about 3 percent. Most of the feedback is very positive and most participants are very pleased with the program. Participants will even check availability of alternative vanpools if they are planning job or shift changes, so as to not leave the program.
From an operations perspective, the program is run with limited staff-time, as most of the RapidVan program is oversight of vendors and sales and coordination of new vans. The reduced staff time for this program is possible due to the use of contract vendors for vanpool registration and management, fleet management, fuel, carwashes, etc. The Rapid does rely on internal staff from the finance, procurement, marketing and maintenance department staff to support the program. Program registration, driver and passenger management, fleet records and invoicing records are streamlined through GreenRide Vanpool. Rapid staff does meet with individuals and groups who are in the information gathering stage about the program to review the program, answer questions and receive notarized signatures for permission to complete background checks.
The Rapid completed much research in the setup and design of the RapidVan program and received great advice, ideas and resources from other transit agencies, but vanpool programs need to be designed to fit the specific local needs of each area to be successful. The Rapid continues to tweak the program to best serve its participants. One of the best compliments the RapidVan program received was from a participant that, because of a reoccurring medical condition, would have lost his job due to an inability to drive his 60-mile one-way commute for six months. He said the RapidVan program saved his life and his ability to work. Vanpooling as a form of public transportation continues to help people stay employed and commute to and from their jobs with ease with an efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective program.
"Going Online with Carpool and Vanpooling"
The Rapid’s marketing approach of alternative commute options focuses on business leadership in West Michigan. This top down approach to ridesharing alternatives begins with a custom zip code map that is created by using the employee’s home zip codes, which are color coded by density on a GIS map. This visual exercise really helps business leaders see the commuting patterns of their employees and helps substantiate the need to invest in an online carpooling/vanpooling system.