Long commutes, high gas prices spur U.P. car pool lots

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Capital News Service
LANSING— Look for more car pool lots in the Upper Peninsula on the 2010 state road map.
According to Niles Annelin, car pool lot coordinator for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the state added four car pool lots in the Upper Peninsula this summer and fall. And U.P. residents are becoming more interested in the option.
“They have generally a longer travel distance between jobs, so there’s definitely a need for carpool lots in the U.P.,” said Annelin.
The state implemented a car pool program in 1974 in an effort to decrease oil dependence, according to MDOT.
In 2007, state commuters saved $9.4 million in gasoline through the car-pooling system. According to Annelin use of the lots hasn’t changed much in recent years.
“We saw a large increase when gas was $4 a gallon, and it hasn’t dropped off since then,” he said.
This year, lots opened in Watersmeet, Rapid River, Harvey and Ishpeming, but it’s unclear if any will be added in 2010.
MDOT has seven regional offices that track local commuting patterns. From there, the department figures out where lots should go based on lines of travel.
That’s how Jack’s Super Serv, a grocery store in Harvey, became one of the new sites.
“They came to us,” said Mike Schwemin, vice president of Jack’s Foods Inc.
Jack’s Super Serv isn’t paid for hosting the lot but the state maintains its part of the parking lot, which Schwemin estimates at 24 spaces.
“They pay a portion of the snowplowing,” said Schwemin. “For their portion it runs about $1,500 to $2,000 a year.”
MDOT also paid to have its section re-striped and sealed this summer and to mark the area with official signs.
Schwemin said corrections officers who work at a nearby prison use the carpool lot, and he’s seen increased business because of it.
“I know when their shift changes because there are a bunch of gray uniforms in here,” he said.
According to John Cordell, public information officer for the Department of Corrections, that isn’t a systemwide practice. However, Corrections encourages its employees to car pool.
“We do support car pool and MichiVan, which is a van rental service,” Cordell said.
MichiVan — a private company based in Farmington Hills under contract with the state — doesn’t operate in the U.P. The farthest north it reaches is Tuscola and Sanilac counties.
“We’ve tried to get vans started in the U.P. over the years. At times there’s been interest but we’ve never gotten anything started,” said MichiVan office manager Michelle Romano Rockwood.
According to the MDOT, 35 of the state’s 235 car pool lots are in the U.P.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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