FORT LEAVENWORTH, KS - VPSI Inc. has around 1,500 vanpool groups at more than 100 military installations around the country, according to Michael Norvell, VPSI vice president of business development. Fort Leavenworth, now with 12 vans since it started in January, is one of its latest military vanpool areas since the company started in 1977.

The vanpool company, once owned by Chrysler, is open to the public and also has “microsites” for different niches within vanpooling. One of such sites is where visitors can see where vanpools exist and where a prospective vanpool might start. “It’s a great passenger recruitment tool, and even though it’s a pretty small website you’d be amazed at how many people we match into our vans that way,” Norvell says.

Military installations tend to be in remote areas, making vanpools a great service for those living off base, Norvell says. And what helps the military personnel even further is that it’s a month-to-month agreement. If a person in the military is called off for duty, canceling their service isn’t setting them back with an unused service.

“We love the military,” Norvell says.

VPSI also services the Federal Bureau of Prisons with about 330 vanpool groups. According to Norvell, these often isolated areas do not usually sit within a regular transit route, making mass transit a nonviable option for many workers in these types of facilities.

The vans used by VPSI include the 7-passenger Dodge Caravan, modified 8-passengar Ford E-150 vans and its bloated twin, the 15-passenger Ford E-350. The 350 is the largest van operable without a commercial driver’s license.

According to Norvell, VPSI primarily sticks with Ford for the 8-15 passenger vans because of the necessary modifications made to the vehicles. “We have a great relationship with Ford,” says Norvell, who added that VPSI is also currently working with General Motors in developing some prototype vans.

The vehicle modifications are both safety- and comfort-related. The aftermarket upgrades include individually reclining seats, individual air conditioning and heat, and other luxury adjustments. “A lot of these groups are commuting for over an hour in the van so they don’t mind paying a little extra to have those amenities,” Norvell says. “We’ve figured out what people want to pay for and what they don’t want to pay for.”

VPSI helps organize 7-15 commuters into one van. Aside from providing the vehicle, insurance, maintenance and repairs, the company also provides a nonbrand-specific gas card. “We help organize these groups into sustainable transportation arrangements,” Norvell says.

By Joanne Tucker