A needed lift: CIRTA offers van pool program for employers, employees to address transportation issues

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Every time Kokomo resident James Mayhew works a shift at IMMI in Westfield, he drives a van and picks up several other employees who live nearby. The group is part of a van pool through Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority’s Commuter Connect program.

According to its website, Commuter Connect helps people get to work in ways other than driving alone. Commuter Connect is offered by CIRTA. IMMI recently joined the program to provide a free van pool for employees who commute to the Westfield business from Kokomo.

A heat map showing how many IMMI employees commute from Kokomo for first shift. (Image courtesy of IMMI)

Like many local employers, IMMI was having a difficult time filling open positions. IMMI Vice President of HR Jon Tice said the van pool is a way to attract potential employees and combat a lack of public transportation.

CIRTA offers a $50 subsidy per seat in the Commuter Connect vans. Employers or employees cover the rest of the cost. Costs vary depending on the size of the vehicle, distance traveled, how many riders and other factors. IMMI is covering employee fees for its vans.

CIRTA Director Jennifer Gebhard said riders and certified drivers participate in the program for myriad reasons – everything from saving money on gas to not having a valid driver’s license. CIRTA has 30 vans operating in the central Indiana region.

“Any employer or resident in Westfield or Hamilton County or Marion County and the surrounding doughnut counties can participate in the program,” Gebhard said.

Tice said IMMI offered the transportation service to its employees in Kokomo because some resided in a sober-living house in the city. Many of those employees didn’t have a valid driver’s license.

“There are 34 men that live in a sober-living environment which gives them a second chance of employment,” Tice said. “Most of them don’t have licenses or their license has been suspended.”

IMMI welder Craig Hollis resides in the sober-living house to get his life back on track. He said the van pool helps with that goal.

“I’m staying in a recovery house and rebuilding my life, and the van gives me an opportunity to get a good job and work during my recovery,” Hollis said.

Tice said Commuter Connect vans aren’t exclusively used by IMMI employees in the sober-living house. Other Kokomo employees use the service, too.

Mayhew said he uses the van pool to help offset the cost of gas.

Tabitha King, a production assembly line worker at IMMI, said she uses the van pool because her vehicle needs repaired.

“I needed a ride and it helped me a lot,” she said.

IMMI uses two of Commuter Connect’s 30 vans. Four employees use the van for first shift and five employees use a van for second shift.

Gebhard said CIRTA is the only van pool provider in the state. Businesses interested in participating in the program should email Gebhard at jgebhard@cirta.us.

CIRTA also assists with matching riders for the van pool. For more, visit commuterconnect.us.

CIRTA Director Jennifer Gebhard displays one of the Commuter Connect vans. (Photo by Anna Skinner)

Each van pool is unique

Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority Director Jennifer Gebhard said each of its Commuter Connect van pools operate uniquely to riders.

“Every van pool can look a little different,” she said. “It’s up to each van pool group to decide what that might look like.”

For example, a pool driver might the van home each night and pick up employees on the way to work the next day. Another option is parking the van in an approved big-box store parking lot. Riders then drive their vehicle to the meeting place and catch the van there.

Gebhard said van drivers are volunteers. Drivers are typically employees that also use the van pool and are certified to drive the van.


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