The Rapid’s outreach process includes mailings to area businesses two to four times per year, radio advertising, the use of the State of Michigan ITS highway signs, and attendance and membership on many area boards and committees. The elevated community presence of The Rapid assists in being invited to present at area employers as in many cases the relationship is already established. In some cases, employers have granted access to The Rapid’s staff to come and present to all of their employees, at all meetings, during all shifts and at all facilities.
In 2005 The Rapid decided to look for ways to increase participation in the ridesharing program because the use of the existing program’s system was stagnating.
Increased Ease with Web-Based Solution
After soliciting feedback from large regional employers and members of the public it was clear that a flexible, easy-to-use and rapidly accessible Web-based system would likely increase participation in the rideshare program, be simpler to operate and provide opportunities for fine-tuning in the long-term. The Rapid’s analysis also indicated large employers within the West Michigan area wanted more ownership in a rideshare program, including the ability to access a private Web site that allows their employees to match exclusively within their organization. This is especially true for large medical institutions that require more flexible scheduling for work commute trips due to the varying schedules.
As a result of reviewing the capabilities of various commercially available rideshare software available, the Rapid identified Ecology and Environment Inc.’s GreenRide as meeting the requirements most closely. Consequently, The Rapid purchased the Web and map-based ride-matching and management system and, in just over a month, GreenRide was adapted to meet The Rapid’s specifications, imported the legacy database and launched to offer ride-matching services to the public.
The system was customized to support businesses in helping their employees find more economical and environmentally friendly ways to get to work. The Rapid accomplished this by operating separate portals for large employers so their employees have the option of identifying fellow employees as ridesharing matches. Employees tend to be more comfortable carpooling with fellow employees for many reasons, including an increased sense of security and the ability to strengthen the camaraderie among employees. These portals also take on the “look” and “feel” of the company’s own design elements, further encouraging the employees to seek carpooling matches. “GreenRide is automating ridesharing alternatives for employees of Spectrum Health making it quick and easy for employees to identify options and ride with each other,” states Roger Grow, director, Facilities Support Services, Spectrum Health.
The employer portal model allows the employer or business to customize its sites and reimburse the transit authority annually for a portion of its hosting expenses, so in theory The Rapid’s program will be self-sustaining. There are more than 25,000 employees in Western Michigan that have access to private business portals.
The online system automatically tracks gains and losses in the system, marketing efforts and results, Web hits and helps screen applicants to achieve the best quality database and highest number of matches. Quarterly optimization meetings continually fine-tune operational aspects aiding in efficient operations.
The vanpool program was outgrowing its existing management system and required a more streamlined, less labor-intensive process to manage fleets and passengers. There was also the need to increase service levels to commuters enabling them to instantly identify both carpool and vanpool matches, provide access to forms online and generate automated invoices. A customer-focused improvement is offering primarily minivans in the RapidVan vanpooling program. Drivers are much more comfortable driving a minivan than a larger van and it is easier to find groups of four to six persons, as opposed to larger groups with similar commuting patterns.
One of the RapidVans is traveling about 60 miles each way from Lansing to Grand Rapids, Mich., and its passengers include two employees of a local law school, a federal employee and a purchasing manager that are employed by three different companies within about three miles of each other. The federal employee in this vanpool can take advantage of a program that allows him to be reimbursed $100 per month toward his commuting expenses, which makes his vanpool fare very reasonable.