- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska has launched a program that subsidizes rental vans for groups of seven to 15 people who are willing to share regular rides to work, school or other activities.

The vanpooling program covers up to $400 a month toward the cost of renting a passenger van from Enterprise Rideshare, the Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/2sZc0aL ) reported. The subsidies are available across Nebraska, but only a limited number may be claimed by Omaha and Lincoln commuters.

About 4,000 vehicles commute between Nebraska’s two largest cities each day. Vanpooling elsewhere in the state could help people who don’t have cars and work at times when public transportation isn’t available, said Kari Ruse, transit manager at the Nebraska Department of Roads.

“If you’re working second shift at the prison or the hospital, then your transportation options are limited unless you have your own vehicle,” Ruse said. “We have a lot of interest, for example, in Kearney: businesses like Tyson Foods and the Younes Conference Center, where they have shift workers.”

Department officials estimate that someone traveling 100 miles per day can save up to $10,000 annually by reducing gas, vehicle maintenance and depreciation costs.

Between Omaha and Lincoln, enough money is available to fund about 20 vanpools this year, 25 in 2018 and 30 in 2019. Groups traveling to or from these cities are eligible for a separate rural subsidy if the origin or destination of their trip is outside either of those metro areas.

Additional funds are available for rural vanpools, and the state could request more federal support in those areas based on demand.

The federal Highway and Transit administrations provide the subsidies through grants.

“We certainly hope that it expands and that it becomes self-sustaining and doesn’t require a subsidy,” Ruse said.

Ruse has been working to establish the program for more than two years, after she was approached by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, a council of local governments that helps coordinate regional planning and development.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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