The California Vanpool Authority (also known as CalVans) is a Joint Powers Authority formed in 2012. The Authority evolved from a vanpool program established in Kings County. The Authority's vanpool services connect residents in areas with low population density with employment centers and generates centers to residents of areas with low population density, operate at 100% cost recovery, and generate operating funds for fixed route and paratransit.
The vanpool program was established in 2001 by KCAPTA (Kings County Area Public Transit Agency) to fill a gap created when Caltrans ceased operating vanpools to state facilities. Beginning with a single van serving state correctional employees, it expanded to include agricultural workers in 2002. The agricultural vanpool project was established as a pilot program called AITS (Agricultural Industries Transportation Services) funded by in part by a JARC grant.
AITS sought 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 after a 2002 accident with a private van killed 13 agricultural workers . To keep cost of service low, the Authority transitions used general vans to AITS participants. 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.
By 2011, the CalVans program expanded to 18 counties, providing over 400 vans to agricultural and non-agricultural vanpools. The California Vanpool Authority Joint Powers Authority was formed in 2012 to allow multiple stakeholders to have oversight over the growing program.
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.
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 some privately operated vanpool providers, the public Authority reports operations data to the National Transit Database. This makes the authority's members eligible for federal formula funds.
The ability to generate revenues in excess of expenses is not uncommon for publicly-sponsored vanpools in California. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has sponsored vanpools since 2007. During this time, the MTA has subsidized vanpools an average of $1.48 per passenger trip, but has received $6.88 per passenger trip in federal formula funds.
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 member agencies which act as CalVans sponsors.
Joint Powers Authority Members
As of January 2012, the following local government entities are members of the Joint Powers Authority:
- Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments
- Fresno Area Council of Governments
- Kings County Association of Governments
- Madera County Transportation Commission
- Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency
- Sacramento Area Council of Governments
- Santa Barbara County Association of Governments
- Tulare County Association of Governments
- Ventura County Transportation Commission
Portions of the content appearing on this page are based on an interview between Juan Matute and Ron Hughes on September 9, 2011 and an email exchange in March of 2012.