NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 3, 2009

Vanpools are far more flexible, faster and require less public tax support than other, fixed route mass transit modes, like buses or rail, says Michael Ennis, an analyst with the Washington Policy Center.

In Washington, there are twenty vanpool programs, six within the Puget Sound region.  In terms of the number of vans in service and passenger trips, King County manages the largest public vanpool program in the state and the nation.

In 2007, King County operated 826 vanpools and carried 2.3 million passenger trips.  Only Chicago and Houston come close to running systems as large.  In 2007, Chicago operated 677 vans and served 1.9 million trips while Houston managed 545 vanpools and carried about 2.0 million trips.

According to Ennis:

  • Vanpools are far more flexible and require less public tax support than other, fixed route mass transit modes, like buses or rail.
  • King County's vanpool program alone carries more people than Sound Transit's entire commuter rail, for $1 billion less.
  • Regional vanpools served four times more passengers for 1/7th the cost of Sound Transit's Sounder Commuter Rail.
  • Regional vanpools are 2½ times more efficient than Sound Transit's buses.


  • Between 2000 and 2007, regional vanpools spent 18 times less in capital expenses than the regional bus agencies, 12 times less than Sound Transit's buses and 20 times less than commuter rail.
  • Regional vanpools cost between three and five times less to operate than light rail, buses or commuter rail.
  • Regional vanpools require much less public tax support than other inter-city transit modes because users cover two thirds of operational expenses.
  • Vanpools have the potential to serve 20 percent more riders for $20 billion less than Sound Transit's light rail expansion plan.

Instead of spending more public money to connect cities with high speed rail, commuter rail, light rail and express bus services, policymakers should look to vanpools as the most efficient alternative, says Ennis.

Source: Michael Ennis, "Vanpools in the Puget Sound Region," Washington Policy Center, October 21, 2009.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues