At its May 1 meeting, the Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety approved an interlocal agreement between the City of Columbus and the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA). The agreement allows the two agencies to cooperate in providing transportation to employees of local companies. It was approved by CIRTA’s Board of Directors on April 24.
In early 2017, a committee made up of Mayor Jim Lienhoop, several city department heads, employers, staffing agencies, social service providers, the Chamber of Commerce, Columbus Economic Development, and other community stakeholders was formed to discuss employee transportation solutions. Based on these discussions, a bus route to the Woodside industrial area had been identified as a need in the ColumBUS Transit Improvement and Expansion Plan (2014) and the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Long Range Transportation Plan (2016).
After studying potential solutions, the committee determined a vanpool program to be the preferred solution, as it was found to be more flexible and less expensive than a bus route. The program, expected to begin in the next few months, will be managed by CIRTA, which now operates vanpools in nine central Indiana counties.
A vanpool consists of 5-15 people commuting from similar origins to similar destinations each workday. Vanpools represent a flexible solution to the job access problem. They can serve locations throughout the community, cover all shifts at employment centers, and accommodate workers who favor ride-sharing, as well as those who lack reliable transportation.
“Carpooling is hardly a new idea, but when a city, its employers and their employees apply the concept in a new way, it is a model of civic innovation,” said Cindy Frey, President of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. “I applaud the city and our local employers for creating a vanpool program that provides reliable, low-cost transportation for employees. This is smart government.”
The cost of renting and operating the vans will be shared by the City of Columbus, employers and other sponsors, and riders. The city’s share of these costs will be reimbursed by the Federal Transit Authority (FTA). A monthly fee to CIRTA for managing the program will be paid by the City with local funds.
“We are very excited to announce the Columbus vanpool program, an innovative response to a critical need for employee transportation,” said Mayor Jim Lienhoop. “This concept provides greater flexibility than a fixed route bus, and shares the cost of commuting among the City, local employers and workers. We are pleased to partner with our local businesses and employers to get this program in place.”
A three-year pilot project, the vanpool program will start with outreach to employers, local organizations, and staffing agencies by CIRTA representatives. As interest grows, CIRTA will organize and manage vanpools that will transport riders to employment centers. Vanpools will be required to have an origin in Columbus and a destination in Columbus or Bartholomew County, or an origin in any county and a destination in Columbus.
“Through many conversations with area employers, we’ve heard of their desire to gain access to more workers,” said Jason Hester, president of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corporation. “We are very excited about the prospects of the new program to enable job seekers to connect with job and career opportunities that await them in the Woodside Industrial Park area and wherever the program may grow within Columbus and Bartholomew County.”
For more information on the Columbus vanpool program, please call or email Laura Thayer with the City of Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Department, at 812-376-2550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.