Van-pooling - a new term that translaters into super car pools using 12-seat vans instead of cars - got a big lift from President Carter last month when he suggested in his energy message that the government buy 6,000 vans and use them to get government employees to and from work.
Yesterday van-pooling got another boost at a hearing of the House Surface Transportation subcommittee headed by Rep. Robert L. Edgar (D-Pa.) Six representatives of large companies testified to the popularity of van-pooling among their employees and one representative, from the Atlantic-Richfield Co. in Los Angeles, described van pools with stereo headsets, airplane seats and soundproofing.
"We've got a waiting list of people trying to get into our van-pool program," said William Fortune of Continental Oil Co. "We've got van pools at 12 locations in seven states. It looks like it would work for the government just as well as it has worked for us."
Robert Owens, a transportation engineer who originated the van-pool idea with the 3M Co. of St. Paul in 1973, described van-pooling as a step between mass transportation and private vehicles that the federal government has never seriously studied.
Owens said that 3M started its Commute-A-Van program in 1973. By the end of 1977 we will have achieved a total saving of 8.3 million vehicle miles - nearly 680,000 gallons of gasoline - and (saved) 13,000 tons of pollutants from the atmosphere."
Owens said 3M has 92 vans in operation, each carrying about 11 persons an average of 50 miles daily.
If 3M's program can realize that kind of saving," Owens said, "the long-term results of a federal 6,000-van program (the Carter plan) will be truly remarkable."
Rep. Edgar's interest in van-pooling began in 1974 when the Scott Paper Co., when is in his home district, began such a program.
In 1975 Edgar proposed a $75 million van-pooling program that would have made grants to companies and local governments for starting vanpool programs. The bill was defeated.
Edgar's subcommittee is now considering a proposal for $50 million in grants to be awarded to businesses and local governments to start van pools, $20 million to groups for research and development of the van-pool idea and a $100 million revolving fund that would be available to lend groups for the purchase of vans to establish van pools.
"There are over 1,000 commuter vans on the road today, sponsored by over 100 companies," Edgar said. "Each van saves 5,000 gallons of gas each year and reduces pollution emissions by two tons."
Jay Cohen, a transportation planner for the General Services Administration, which would be in charge of the government's van-pool program under the Carter proposal, said van pools would give an advantage to government employees who want to park close to the agency where they work.
"All government agencies under the executive branch have priority parking which favors cars or vans with the most people," Cohen said. "If a van with eight people signed up for a government parking lot they would probably get the space they wanted."
Cohen said the federal parking lot behind the District Building now has an average of five people in the cars that are allowed to park there.
William C., Kanup, a transportation expert with the Council of Governments, said commuter clubs car-pooling sponsored by COG and the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade currently has names of 40,000 people on file who are seeking riders for car pools.
"We started van-pooling people about a year ago," Kanup said. "But it is not a sizable program."