Back in 1979, when the Seattle SuperSonics were NBA champions and gas in the region cost $0.99 a gallon on average amidst a nationwide oil shortage, King County sought to alleviate transportation woes by introducing a fleet of vans for commuters to share.
To do so, it partnered with the University of Washington, Rainier Bancorp, Weyerhaeuser and The Boeing Company.
On July 17, King County Metro celebrated 40 successful years of its vanpool program by hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Vanpool Distribution Center in Redmond, which Metro general manager Rob Gannon noted as being the only transportation hub of its kind in the nation. Attendees included various Metro employees involved in the vanshare program, longtime vanpoolers and even a few representatives from Amazon and Microsoft Corp.
“We are trendsetters for the vanpool program and for many innovative programs around the country,” said Chris O’Claire, Metro mobility division director. “The amount of vehicles that we’re removing from the road every day is important, not just for the economy and not just for the environment, but for connecting people with where they want to go.”
When the program started, Metro managed just 21 vanpools. Now, it provides 1,600 vanpools for 11,000 participants, serving employers like Kaiser Permanente. According to Gannon, this constitutes the nation’s largest vanpool program of its kind, removing more than 18,000 vehicles from the roads every workday.
In his speech, Gannon gave a nod to the Vanpool’s support of area nonprofits. Since 1994, Metro has been donating vehicles at the end of their vanpool lifespan, roughly seven to 10 years of use, to organizations needing transport solutions. Gannon also mentioned that Metro Vanpool is working to implement a program that will bring dogs into its vans (“Where else but Seattle would you do that?” he joked).
Before the ceremonial ribbon was snipped, Gannon introduced two vanpoolers — part of a larger group that has been sharing rides to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for years and calls itself a “vanmily”— and handed them the keys to a brand new Chrysler Pacifica hybrid van, one of 10 to hit the roads this year for a pilot program.
“Average gas price is about $3.70, but what’s so fascinating is that so many of us are looking to the future of not being dependent on gasoline, and that’s being represented here today,” O’Claire said.