Ridesharing offers commute choice

Local residents who commute to the Pittsburgh area for work or school and have resolved to save money in the new year may want to consider a vanpool or carpool, said participants in the rideshare program coordinated by CommuteInfo with help from the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Lisa Kay Schweyer, program developer for ComuteInfo, said the program saw a 20 percent increase in participation in 2012, followed by a 10 percent increase this year.

She said about 100 residents of Brooke, Hancock and Jefferson counties travel to work or school in several vans and more than 200 have carpools registered through CommuteInfo.

Locally the vans leave designated parking lots in Steubenville and Weirton for downtown Pittsburgh and outlying areas such as Imperial, Oakland and Lawrenceville.

Schweyer said vanpools could be added to other areas, such as Robinson Township or the Pittsburgh International Airport area, if there’s sufficient demand.

Schweyer believes there are many more who would benefit from the program but aren’t aware of it.

Those who don’t need to be convinced of the benefits of car- or vanpooling may still cite one drawback – an unexpected need to return home before the end of the work or school day because of illness, a death in the family or other emergency.

Participating in CommuteInfo addresses that problem, Schweyer said, through its Emergency Ride Home provision.

Through it, CommuteInfo participants may receive reimbursement for bus or cab fare or car rentals for up to four rides home or $100, whichever comes first. The option is available not only to vanpool participants but also carpoolers who register through CommuniteInfo, Schweyer noted.

She said while CommuteInfo helps people interested in carpooling to find others with similar start points and destinations, carpoolers need not have met through CommuteInfo to become registered by it.

For those who aren’t sure if vanpooling or carpooling is for them, current participants offer many pluses.

Many said vanpooling has greatly cut their cost for gasoline, maintenance for their own vehicles and parking fees.

“Obviously, I’d be going through tires and brakes faster. It really is a benefit over using my own vehicle,” said Erol Hosdil of Steubenville, an employee of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who has participated since 1999.

Schweyer noted vanpoolers typically pay $90 to $110 per month for the service, depending on the number of riders in a van and other factors, such as the distance traveled and any cost to park the van.

“The ‘not driving” part is the best for me. On the way you can talk on your phone or sleep,” said Brigitte Bilderback of Weirton, who works in Oakland as a a medical assistant.

Kim Parker, a New Cumberland resident and employee of the University of Pittsburgh, said she once drove to Robinson Township where she took a bus to work.

“Now I’m not stressed out thinking, am I going to make it in time to catch this bus or that bus,” she said.

Afeworki Paulos of Cadiz, a professor of international relations at Carnegie Mellon University, said he reads or naps on the way to work.

“Also, if you’re environmentally conscious, we’re also reducing the pollution in some way,” he said.

Parker said she’s also become friends with her fellow vanpoolers.

“In winter I think many appreciate not having to drive in the snow,” said Hosdil, who has served as a driver or backup driver for his vanpool since 2001.

Those who volunteer to serve as drivers are trained in the van’s general operation and maintenance and must have good driving records before they are accepted.

Schweyer said there currently are openings in Hosdil’s van, which travels to the Oakland and Lawrenceville area, and its riders are offering a free ride for one day to someone who is interested in trying vanpooling as a means to reach their workplace, college or trade school.

Anyone interested in learning more about CommuteInfo, which oversees vanpool and carpool routes in 10 southwestern Pennsylvania counties, should call (888) 819-6110 or visit the program’s website at www.commuteinfoorg.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)