California Vanpool Authority
The California Vanpool Authority (also known as CalVans) is a Joint Powers Authority with member agencies throughout Central California. CalVans originally emerged as a program of Kings Area Rural Transit to fill a gap created when Caltrans ceased operating vanpools to state facilities. Since 2001, CalVans has operated vanpool service, beginning with a single van serving county employees and expanding to almost 400 routes serving 23 counties statewide. The program (now called CalVans) has been able to expand transit service to residents of low population density areas, connecting workers to jobs in ways that fixed-route transit systems could not.
In the past, the Authority was sponsored by the Kings County Area Public Transit Agency.
The public Authority owns and manages the operation of Vanpools. This publicly-owned model contrasts with the private model offered by VPSI Inc, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and other companies that has been more common in California. San Benito County also offers public vanpool services.
Individuals who wish to commute with their co-workers may apply to form a vanpool and be a driver. Drivers must meet certain conditions and agree to manage and operate the van in a non-profit manner. The Authority pays fuel and maintenance expenses.
Having a driver who is responsible for making payments, acquiring new passengers, and managing day-to-day operations reduces labor costs that might be incurred by a centrally-administered vanpool program. According to Hughes, the CalVans model allows it to accept the 30-40% applicants who would be declined by for-profit vanpool companies due to poor credit. Because of this, he sees the service as providing a lifeline to individuals who would not otherwise be able to access jobs. Additionally, Hughes said that a leasee who looses a job or is unable to maintain payments can return a van if needed because the van can be reassigned to other routes as the system continues to grow.
The Authority offers two service products: Agricultural Industries Transportation Services (AITS) for agricultural workers and CalVans for non-agricultural workers.
Agricultural Industries Transportation Services (AITS)
AITS strives to be a safer, low-cost alternative to private "raiteros" linking residences with agricultural jobs. According to Hughes, these agricultural workers travel an average of 85 miles per day. The AITS program was originally started using JARC grant funds after a 2002 accident with a private van killed 13 agricultural workers . To keep cost of service low, the Authority transitions used CalVans vans to AITS services and sells discounted used vehicles to agricultural workers. AITS vans are outfitted with rugged interior flooring, water coolers, and toolboxes for use in agricultural settings. The Authority bills for AITS services weekly as agricultural workers are paid weekly. AITS vans have been used to transport agricultural workers to seasonal jobs in the Imperial Valley, which increases the utilization rate of the vans and allows workers based elsewhere in the state to stay employed during the winter growing season.
CalVans are targeted at non-agricultural workers and employers, including state institutions. Historically, many of the passengers have been state employees who are eligible for Caltrans vanpool subsidies. The vans offer an alternative to the long-distance commutes. CalVans tracks demand for vanpools that is not currently being realized: requests for vanpools on routes and times that don't currently exist. Tracking these routes allows potential users to express interest, and allows CalVans to convert suggested routes to operating routes when sufficient demand exists. CalVans for non-agricultural workers are billed monthly. The capital cost of vans is amortized over 5 years, at which point the monthly rate charged for the vanpool decreases.
The Kings County Area Public Transit Authority Board originally decided to pursue vanpools only if they could achieve 100% recovery of operating and capital costs. The program has been financially self-sustaining from the day it began, according to Hughes. In contrast to privately operated vanpool services, the Authority reports operations data to the National Transit Database, which increases formula funds available to Kings Area Rural Transit and agencies in other urbanized areas where the vans operate.
Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC)
Federal funds formulas for small urbanized areas have historically included demographic factors but not service characteristics. SAFETEA-LU established Section 5307 funding for for cities that offer high levels of transit service relative to their size . The program has brought new operating funds to communities that CalVans serves, and have been key in the Authority's expansion. KART and other agencies have used these funds to expand vanpool service and to cover operating fund deficiencies for fixed route transit.
Job Access / Reverse Commute (JARC)
The has used Section 5316 funds to acquire vans.
State Local Transportation Funds
State funds that are in excess of what is available to meet local transit needs can be used to purchase new vans. This was enabled by AB
Urbanized Area Formula Program
Calvans serves multiple Urbanized Areas (UZAs) in California. Calvans service can generate formula funds for agencies which serve these areas.
Portions of the content appearing on this page are based on an interview between Juan Matute and Ron Hughes on September 9, 2011.