Commuter traffic to TRIC eased with vanpools
The rise of Tesla’s massive Gigafactory and the new Switch SUPERNAP data center east of town will provide a significant boost to overall employment at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. But employees hoping for bus service to those and other companies based at the sprawling industrial center east of Sparks shouldn’t expect to catch a seat on an RTC bus any time soon.
Despite the thousands of new jobs predicted for existing and new companies at TRIC, the Regional Transportation Commission has no plans to add bus service to Tahoe Reno Industrial, says Carol Perry, RTC Trip Reduction Specialist. The route into Storey County isn’t feasible for a number of reasons, Perry says — but current methods of public transportation are working well for many TRIC employees, she adds.
RTC currently has 12 vanpools making daily trips to TRIC and expects to add two to three more vans that will go to the Gigafactory beginning in June.
Vanpooling is an increasingly attractive option for residents of the Truckee Meadows — the RTC currently has 89 vanpools averaging more than 6 passengers each headed to various destinations throughout Washoe County. Depending on the size of the van, each vehicle holds between seven and 14 people.
“It’s the only public transportation option headed out that way, and it’s likely to remain so,” Perry says.
The distance involved — the entrance to TRIC is roughly 9 miles from the last Sparks exit on I-80 — is prohibitive to fixed-route service by RTC buses. And the footprint of the enormous industrial center, which is greater than the entire footprint of the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area, makes a potential bus route even more unfeasible, Perry says.
“There’s not enough density, and the TRI center is so huge that even if it did have bus service that could drive around and hit all the employers, it would be a very long run and very costly to the RTC. If there were a couple of stops close to the freeway, it still would require employers to run an interior shuttle service to cover that interior distance.”
So bus service to TRIC is out, at least in the near-term. But vanpooling has proven a successful way of getting employees to the center, Perry says. And as the concentration of employers grows, so too will the number of vanpools running to the area, she adds.
Currently, six vans are traveling to Tesla’s Gigafactory, while four head to eBay Enterprises and two go to Battery Systems. Despite the new additions slated for this summer, one burning question remains: Is it enough?
Perry says the Regional Transportation Commission hasn’t ruled out anything and remains open to all options — Governor Sandoval has even discussed adding passenger rail service to the center, she says — but for now vanpooling is the best available option for public transportation to TRIC.
“Vanpooling is a terrific option and could make it easier to segue into busses,” Perry says. “If anything, it helps identify demand.”
Vanpools (and bus pools, for that matter) are a common means of traveling to distant workplaces. Reno-Sparks-based employees at Sierra Army Depot in Herlong routinely vanpool, and employees at the many remote mine sites in northeastern Nevada bus pool daily.
Though it’s not for everyone, Perry admits, vanpooling is a great option for full-time employees working the same shifts at the same place. And for employees who might work occasional overtime hours and miss their ride home, RTC does have a guaranteed ride home program for vanpool users.
Costs for vanpool vary. Riders basically split the costs of a rolling 30-day lease on the van and also pay for gas, but RTC offsets rider costs with a subsidy. And every employer at TRIC using vanpooling also chips in financially too, Perry says, because they recognize the importance of getting their employees to work.
Lease rates vary on vehicles — the RTC leases its vans from vRide, the nation’s largest vanpool operator. The operator covers maintenance and insurance on the vehicle. Rider costs to Tahoe Reno Industrial Center average about $400 a month, Perry says — costly, but less than the cost of using personal vehicles.
“In general, with vanpooling compared to cost of ownership, most people save hundreds per year and thousands when you look at the true costs of driving,” she says. “In general transportation is the second-largest expense in most people’s budget.
“It’s a cost savings, and vanpooling also relives stress. You can take that commute time and turn it into personal time. Everyone who is not driving is getting back an hour or two each day where they can relax, socialize, listen to iPod or even catch up on work.”
Currently, vans heading to TRIC go to single employers, but that could change based on public demand, Perry adds. Additional vanpool routes could be added for different shifts, since many businesses at Tahoe Reno Industrial operate multiple shifts each day.
As employment at Tahoe Reno Industrial grows, particularly when Tesla reaches its full potential there, vanpools may become even more commonplace, Perry says. For people who own their own vehicles and don’t want to vanpool, the Regional Transportation Commission also offers a free trip-match program where people can look for carpool partners to split the cost of fuel or other expenses. Drivers can sign up at rtctripmatch.com, or find more information about vanpooling at rtcvanpool.com.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.