A state-run vanpool service will end in May, leaving about 225 commuters to find other ways to get to work.

The Department of Transportation said a lack of federal funding to replace aging vehicles led to its decision to end the decades-old service that’s been run for the past 10 years by Go Maine, a program that connects commuters to ride-sharing options.

The program will continue to help commuters find van rides through Michigan-based VPSI Inc., the only vanpool business licensed in the state, said Sue Moreau, passenger services manager for the Department of Transportation.

But it will be up to the commuters to contact the company to get the routes started. Some of them are saying the hassle — and potentially higher fees — have them considering other options for commuting.

Rob Rocheleau, who has been commuting via vanpool since 1987, might move closer to his job.

“I’m not going to put 30,000 miles a year on my car,” said Rocheleau, who lives in Lewiston and works for the state Department of Audit in Augusta.

From what he’s seen, there seems to be “quite a lot involved” in switching to the private service.

“I’m wondering, administratively, how much of a bear it would be,” he said.

Cathleen McIntyre, VPSI’s area manager, said her company plans to work with individual groups of commuters to figure out the most cost-effective services for them. That might mean consolidating some of the routes, she said.

Most commuters who use the vanpool service are state workers traveling to Augusta. A few other routes include Portland to Lewiston, Augusta to Portland and Van Buren to Limestone.

The state program owns 27 vans, most for 12 passengers. Between 20 and 25 of them are on the road 20 days per month, with some older ones designated as backups, said Moreau.

There are about twice as many vehicles as when Go Maine began running the state’s vanpool service in 2002. And there’s a demand for more, said Moreau.

All but two of the vans are at capacity and many of them have waiting lists of three or four people, she said.

But the state can not afford to replace aging vehicles, let alone expand the fleet, Moreau said. She said each van costs between $40,000 and $45,000.

The Federal Highway Administration last gave the state program money for vehicle replacement in 2008, and six new vans were bought, Moreau said.

Considering the useful life of a constantly commuting van is about five years, more than half of them need to be replaced soon, she said.

Joshua Henry, a chemistry professor at Bates College in Lewiston, said he was always under the impression that the $120 monthly fee he pays to ride in a vanpool from Portland would have helped pay for replacement vehicles.

He said he would have paid a higher fee to the state if he were asked. But he’s not so sure that he wants to pay it to VPSI, because the fee would vary depending on how many people were riding the van regularly.

McIntyre said the state’s program was “very generous” and, for those who chose to use the VPSI, “it’s not unreasonable to expect some slight increases.”

Henry said he’s heard some people say they’re considering the private service. He might opt to start a carpool with others on his van to Lewiston. Henry and his fellow commuters are trying to start a Facebook page to find out what other vanpool users are doing.

“A lot of people are really upset. There’s just kind of an uncertainty now as to what’s going to happen,” Henry said.

 

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