ACT Council Spotlight Mini-Series: Vanpool Council

Jul 14, 2022

Andy Keeton

VP Global Strategy

Between the Lines presents ACT Council Spotlight Mini-Series: Vanpool Council

with Michelle Althoff


What is the Vanpool Council?

On this week's episode of Between the Lines, we chat with Michelle Althoff. Michelle is a Group Commute Manager for Commute with Enterprise, overseeing a team of 5 in four states in the Southeast with 345 total vanpools. She also co-leads the regional Diversity Team Initiatives for Enterprise. Michelle is an active member of the Association for Commuter’s Transportation’s SEACT Chapter and serves as the current Vanpool Council Chair.

And check out our exclusive commuter playlists on Spotify!


Episode Transcript

[Voiceover] Commutifi presents: Between the Lines with Andy Keeton. Each week, we explore the challenging issues transportation demand management professionals face on their journey to transition commuters from driving alone to more sustainable, shared and active commuting habits. Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode and check our exclusive commuter playlist on Spotify. This is Between the Lines with Andy Keeton.

[Andy Keeton] Hi everyone, and welcome aboard to this episode of Between the Lines and our ACT Council Spotlight Miniseries. Today, we're highlighting the Vanpool Council at the Association for Commuter Transportation, or ACT. And we're talking to Michelle Althoff. Michelle is a group commute manager for Commute with Enterprise, overseeing a team of 5 in 4 states in the Southeast. With 345 total vanpools, which is amazing! And she also co-leads the regional diversity team initiatives, and, important to this conversation today, she's an active member of ACT and has been for a long time, and their SEACT chapter in the Southeast. And serves as the current Vanpool Council Chair. Coming in with the wealth of knowledge, I'm really excited to talk to you today. Thanks for joining, Michelle.

[Michelle Althoff] Hey, good morning. Thanks for having me. This is awesome. I am so excited to be here and share about ACT and the Council and just what we do.

[Andy Keeton] Perfect! Let's just jump right into it, then. What is the Vanpool Council and Who is it for?

[Michelle Althoff] Well, clearly it's about vanpooling… But, I feel like most people probably don't know what that is. So if you don't know what actually that is, a Vanpool is a group of 4 to 15 people, all live in the same area, commute to work together. Functions like a bigger version of a carpool, but they get a lot more employer incentives and public transportation incentives. And get to share the cost of their commute. So, pretty simple, even though it's like a little known gem, and people don't really know what that is. I know I did not. The Council is for anyone, but you have to be a member of ACT. But we have about 170ish members or so. But, I would say, I mean it's for anyone who is a transportation geek and who would like to learn a little bit more about what's going on in vanpooling or if it can be an asset in your community, which it's an asset everywhere, so everyone should be a member, personal opinion.

[Andy Keeton] Vanpool is so funny because it's like this amazing, like you said, like hidden gem that works in so many places. But at the same time, somehow it's also very interesting to transportation nerds. It's like, I find it a fascinating solution, but it's just like, so good, so yeah…

Michelle Althoff] Well, it's one of the… And it's so funny, you know, we actually just created this really cool infographic for ACT. Which actually we shared with our Council yesterday, we had a quarterly meeting. And we went into through this NTD report, National Transit Database. And there was like, 80 pages of data, which is like, oh my Lord. But, we got this, like, a couple of pages document we tried to pull out and it was so cool to see just some of the benefits of vanpooling. And it's one of the main transportation options that actually makes money for these transit agencies or metropolitan planning organizations in general. And so, little known gem that, like, brings revenue in. And so, it's cool to see that.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah. Yeah, that's awesome. A side-bonus of having a good program, you also make money off of it, I mean…

[Michelle Althoff] And it helps your local community, so. I always like to think it's like the circle of life with NTD. Where it helps the end-users save money, it helps the regional planning agency, it helps the Federal Government. And these people get money back in their communities that help the local area, whether it would be with the transportation option or new roads or bike lanes. So, it's kind of a… It's a win-win.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah, I like it! Win-wins and CDM, that's what we like to hear. So, I've already hit on a lot of this but I, you know, just maybe putting a final point to it. Why is vanpooling so important to the future of commuting and the future of TDM - Transportation Demand Management? And, you know, why should people be coming to the Vanpool Council to continue talking about this and making vanpool this thing that is bigger in the future?

[Michelle Althoff] Yeah, that's a great question, so, multiple questions. So, one, why is vanpooling so important? Well, you know… For a lot of areas… So, for me, right? I live in the rural south, I'm actually from the DC metropolitan area. I moved here to Birmingham about 6 years ago. And being here, you know, in all the major cities, right? Like, congestion is horrible, but they have so many options. Here in the rural south, in a lot of the… You know, I'd say 80% of the country, right? Like, you've got rural areas that need options. And especially, somewhere here where people are so car-centric. All they want to do is drive the cars, But the only options here, especially in Birmingham, where I'm at, it's carpool, vanpool or drive your car. I mean, you can have a bus, like, in the Birmingham city limits, but if you're traveling from Montgomery to… Birmingham to Montgomery is a really popular route here. Or, up to Huntsville. Or, you know, my territory, like you were saying, I oversee 4 states, so I oversee South Georgia, a Florida Panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi. You know, this is the only thing they have. And so, it's so critical for these programs to exist and us have these, like, transit partners to help these people because it's it. And especially in the rural south, you think about transportation as something that really is vital, just for the economy. But, you know, you think of major cities with major moneymakers, but a lot of these folks… Really, that extra 100 dollars is a really big difference to them. So, vanpooling is a really important tool in the toolbox, that is really helpful for long-distance commuters. And it's where there is a transit desert, and not bus service, it makes a huge difference.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah. I love that, and I love solutions that work kind of across geography. And particularly in rural areas, where… Yeah, public transportation maybe doesn't exist or isn't very good, vanpool sounds like an awesome solution.

[Michelle Althoff] Yeah, it's a perfect one.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah, absolutely. So, let's get back to the question of why someone should join the Vanpool Council In just a second. But first, I want to get to what is it that you're doing? How is the Vanpool Council, you know, planning or currently helping transportation professionals better incorporate vanpooling practices, and just… Yeah, what is it that you do?

[Michelle Althoff] Oh yeah, sorry. Why 're we here, right? You hit me on my soapbox about vanpooling and why it's important, all those, sorry.

[Andy Keeton] No, it's good. I mean, that's important. We need to be like, "Hey, vanpool is great." We've got that checked off. Now, what is Vanpool Council? What is that doing?

[Michelle Althoff] What is Vanpool Council doing? So many things… So, like I said, we have about 170 members. We actually have two work groups that we partner that we have created for the council that members can be a part of. So, you can join. One is a professional development group, and their job is to help create sessions, webinars, virtual discussions. So, last year we put one on with telework Council, and the Shuttle Council, actually. Just talking about returning to work, and what that could look like. We typically have a couple session at the annual conference. I'll do a plug for Melissa Foley, she is our chair of that. And so, we actually have two really cool sessions at the international conference, and I'm excited about. And I think I have to moderate one, or was told I have to do something. It's fine.

[Andy Keeton] You get to moderate.

[Michelle Althoff] I get to moderate. I get to moderate, right? But, we'll be talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. And why that's important in vanpooling, and how we can help others from marketing strategy approaches. And the second will be looking at, You asked about, the future of commuting. And why it's important. And a partner out in Washington and Oregon are going to be talking about what they are doing up there to help. What they did during COVID, and then what they are doing for the future to be creative. So, we like to do things like that. The second, which I talked about a little bit earlier, but I'll super plug them, is our Communications and Directory work group. And so, what they do is try to connect people up, right? Maybe it's a brand-new person to the council, and they're looking for just a mentor. Who can I go to as a resource? Who is trying to do a new RP? And who is trying to start a new subsidy? I'm trying to look at, you know, starting up maybe something in the rural area, or a new urban area. And so, we try to have those resources lined up where we can point people. The other is, we're trying to create things, so we actually created a map last year. And it's a super cool Google Map, where about 25 of our partners have gone in and just put their information. And so, you can actually see where people are across the country and use it as a resource to go and talk to them. And then the second, that we just finished literally yesterday, and I just launched, was a Vanpool Council infographic, which is a few pages. And we actually used it, the goal of it was to help transit agency partners to sell to their executive directors and their board members about why vanpooling is so important. And how it can actually make the money, and how it actually… It's revenue-positive, which is kind of heard of in TDM. And so, now we're going to start working on an infographic for B to C, and looking at, you know, just what are some of the important things that our council members can use. So, being a member of the council gets you access to all of that. And it lets you network and collaborate. And we're trying to provide value to our members, it's not, like, a new part of the council, it's not just 'check something off the box,' right? Like, you actually want to get something for your membership, so we put a lot of effort into that.

[Andy Keeton] I love this. And, you know, I feel like the Vanpool Council is usually just doing incredible things. You know, I feel like I'm always seeing another thing coming out of your council. So, it's awesome to see it. And I really like that there is, you know, there's programming. So, you know, you want to learn more about vanpools, you know. Here are these events, these, you know, conference pannels or whatever it might be. And then there is also, like, actual information that come out. That map that you talked about, I've seen it, is awesome. Like, really cool. I'm excited to see the infographic as well and look through that. Really, really great. So, all of this. I mean, you've got me sold already. And we kind of talked about why someone should join the Vanpool Council, but give me your best pitch. Why should someone listening now, who's not a part of the Vanpool Council, or maybe is but hasn't been as active, why should they join? Why should they become more active? And maybe we'll throw a little on here as well. If they're not even an ACT member, why should they join ACT and then the Vanpool Council?

[Michelle Althoff] Oh, that's a great question. So one, joining ACT is an incredible experience. You get access to all these different people of information levels, right? Wealth of knowledge. Whether you're just starting out in the TDM industry or you have have been around for a long time. There is something for everyone, truly. I've been involved for about ten years and I have fallen in love. I have excelled in my career, personally and professionally. I've learned so much, gained so many friends and I can't recommend it enough, for your own personal development. On the Vanpool Council side, why not? You know, that's the simplest answer, right? Because at the end of the day, if you are in a part of the country, and you're trying to learn more and advance your industry, you know, why wouldn't you want to be a part of some of these councils, who can be coming up with new innovative strategies, collaboration, article sharing. Just to be knowledgeable, but also how do you move your business forward, right? And so, that's what we do every day, so… And it's easy, it's free, and we have quarterly meetings, so it's really not that much time. So, why wouldn't you be a part of it?

[Andy Keeton] I mean, that seems, like, a good pitch to me. Why not, I mean, it is easy. And, I agree, if you're looking at anything to do with vanpools, it does seem like it makes a lot of sense, I mean. Just being able to connect with others who have the experience, like you, and understand, you know, problems or successes and what you should do and what you shouldn't do. Makes a lot of sense to me.

[Michelle Keeton] Yeah. So, we're easy. We're all in, just… We're fun to hang out with. And I would highly recommend at least just hopping on a meeting. We're also going to be planning some fun things this summer. We like to call them 'coffee talks.' And… Quick, 30 minutes, in the morning, grab a cup of coffee and just have a nice conversation. Talk to people across the country and kind of just, you know, see what people are doing. We try to pinpoint one or two topics. So, you know, we'll talk about 'bike-to-work day,' which, I know we're in vanpool-land, but that's still important. Because that still connects the dots, right? And so, talking about hybrid workers, talking about return to work, talking about… Oh my God, I need more coffee myself for this coffee talk. But… But we're talking about a lot of different things at the end of the day, and trying to collaborate with each other. And so, I've always found them really insightful. And they've been a lot of fun to do.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah. No, I mean… I think that is a great idea, just come sort of informal way to have conversations and… Low pressure. I mean, yeah. Count me in, it sounds fun. Okay. So, onto our last question. This has been awesome, and we talked about ACT, we talked about vanpooling, we talked about… We've touched on the future of vanpooling a little bit. It sounds that there's going to be some people talking about this at the International Conference in Chicago, in August. But I want to get it from you, get your opinion. Put on your, ike, you know, seer's hat. Where is the future of vanpool going?

[Michelle Althoff] Oh my goodness. Well, it's funny. If you would ask… So, last year we actually did a session at the International Conference directly on this, and I felt like I had to be, like, George Jetson, and try to see things, like, 10, 20 years from now, right? And so… One: It's such a pivotal time in transportation, but especially in vanpool. Because I think, and an industry, you know, we're trying to figure this whole hybrid thing out. It's been happening for so long, but now it's just on a mass scale, with return to work and what employers are doing. And so, the future of vanpool is so pivotal right now, but it's about to change. And so, it's really cool just to see where things are going, where You're going to see a lot more technology advance. And I won't do pitches for some of these people that things that I already know are coming down the pipeline. But, you know, you're going to start seeing more subscription services, where, you know, right now, I always say, you know, most of vanpooling is with a contract with one person, with a coordinator. Right? And so, are you buying the plane or are you buying the seats on the plane? And right now, you're buying the plane. It's shifting to buying the seats on the plane. And so, it's going to be so cool the next two, three, five years. But, how this vanpooling evolves, and how it keeps up with that. So, that is my future Jetsons feel. It is changing, it's going to keep up with the times and be ahead of the times and the Joneses. And it's going to be really exciting to see how things evolve in the next couple of years because it's already there. We just have got to get the technology to keep up with it.

[Andy Keeton] I love the plane analogy. It does make it… It makes it kind of clearer what you're talking about. I like, you know, buying seats versus buying a plane. I mean, I think we'd all be happy to buy a plane if we had the money, but I mean. Buying seats is fine, I suppose. But yeah, not just keeping up with the Joneses, but getting ahead of them.

[Michelle Althoff] Exactly right. And that's what we are trying to do.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah, I've seen. I think there is like a commercial with a bunch of, like, famous Joneses driving a car. I can't remember what the car commercial is, but, like… They, like, keep up the Joneses, and it's different, like, actors with the last name Jones. And you just, we should just add a vanpool that, like, drives past them and is like… You don't need to keep up with the Joneses, get out of there.

[Michelle Althoff] You can say… Hey, that's a commercial. I got to pitch that to the corporate office and be like, "no." I need, like, Matthew McConaughey or something, right?

[Andy Keeton] Exactly, he would be perfect. Oh man, I won't even try to do the impression. But, yeah. You can take that idea, take it for yourself. I won't even. You don't even need to give me credit, I'll know…

[Michelle Althoff] I will pay you some royalties on the side, I'll give you costum coffee.

[Andy Keeton] Perfect. And then I can join, I'll join the coffee talks, and I'll be like, "hey, I got this coffee." This is great. So, as you can tell just from this conversation, Vanpool Council, super fun. I've had a great time with you. So, I don't know how you can watch this or listen to this and not be like, "I need to spend more time with Michelle and the team." Good enough pitch for me right there. This conversation has been really fun.

[Michelle Althoff] Aw, thanks, Andy.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah, and thanks for being on. Like I said in the beginning, this is part of our ACT Council Spotlight Miniseries. So, we've been talking to councils, you know, across ACT, and we're going to keep releasing these episodes over time. So, definitely, if you're watching this, listening to this, check out the ones we've already released. Check out the ones coming up in the future. And for our new listeners who haven't kind of heard this spiel before, or for the ones that somehow decided to stick on through the end spiel every time, thank you for doing that. Make sure you subscribe to our podcast at We send emails when new episodes come out, so you can know if it's something you really want to check out or not. And check us out on spotify, Google podcasts, Apple podcasts, wherever you listen to podcasts. And the video is now also up on both Spotify and YouTube. The future of podcasts is video, apparently, so that's where we're going. So, check us out. It's a little more fun, it feels like you're more in it. But thanks again for joining us and listening to us or watching us this episode. And Michelle, thanks again for being on, and thanks for everything you're doing for ACT and the Vanpool Council. Amazing, we're excited to see where it continues going.

[Michelle Althoff] Awesome. Thanks for having me, it's been great. And join ACT, that's my last plug. Join ACT, join the council, it's an amazing organization, and it's been fantastic to be a part of, and that is my last pitch of the day.

[Andy Keeton] Perfect. Perfect. Awesome. Alright, we will see everyone again in our next episode. Thanks for joining.

[Michelle Althoff] Thanks.

[Voiceover] Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of Between the Lines, with Andy Keeton. Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode. And check out our exclusive commuter playlists on Spotify.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.