Companies and organizations do their part to help people get to work


April 8, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 10, 2010 at 11:11 p.m.

Inteplast began its employee shuttle service in June 2007, when gas prices spiked.

Inteplast began its employee shuttle service in June 2007, when gas prices spiked.

Dew dotted the morning grass as people made their way onto a blue-and-white bus idling inside Inteplast Group's grounds.

Although it was only 7:30 a.m. - a time many are just rolling out of bed - the dozen or so passengers were getting off a 12-hour shift at the Lolita plant.

And, as the driver closed the door and eased off the brake, riders sat back for a 45-minute ride to Victoria.

Every day, millions of people nationwide travel roads and highways as they commute to work. And some do so with a little help from the companies they work for or other organizations.

Inteplast began its employee shuttle service in June 2007, when gas prices spiked, said Alisha Koehl, the company's human resources administrator.

Employees purchase monthly passes for $30 and receive rides to and from work every day, she said, explaining the company sold 223 shuttle passes in February. Since most employees work about 15 days a month, it comes to about $1 each way.

The service allows employees to avoid wear and tear on their vehicles, saves them gas money, and cuts down on both air pollution and gas emissions, she said. The program offers three routes: one to Victoria, another to Port Lavaca and a third to Bay City.

On March 30, Victor Perez and David Irrobali, two Inteplast packers, settled into the bus after a long day at work.

Irrobali said he liked the fact that the bus allows him a chance to nap on the ride home - something he couldn't do if he were behind the wheel - while Perez said he appreciated saving money on fuel.

"This helps," Perez said.

The company sees its own benefits, said Brenda Wilson, Inteplast's human resources manager.

"We were losing employees because they couldn't afford the commute," she explained. "From our perspective, it's helped stabilize the workforce."

Texas ties with Connecticut for No. 17 when it comes to the average daily commute, according to data from the 2008 American Community Survey. The states average 25.1 minutes of travel time to work for people age 16 and older.

New York topped the list at 31.6 minutes, while North Dakota boasted the shortest drive time, 16 minutes.

Not everyone commutes long distances to get to work, and Victoria Transit has seen steady business in recent months, said Les Garcia, transportation operations manager for the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission.

In March, about 15,000 people took advantage of the fixed service, which runs Monday through Friday. Another 700 or so utilized the service with passes from Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent, he explained. Passengers also use the system to travel to places other than work.

Garcia attributed the program's popularity to increased gas prices and a need for people to get places

"The problem Victoria had was a lot of job seekers didn't have transportation," he said, explaining that, once a person gets a job, they still need a steady way to get to and from work.

He said he expects to see increased interest in such programs in the future.

The planning commission oversees Inteplast's program and, on Monday, added a second bus to the Bay City route, he said.

"Success is almost a problem," he said of the program, because the second Bay City bus is already near capacity. "And there's another Victoria route in the planning stages."

STP Nuclear Operating Company in Matagorda County already operates vanpools employees can access through the company's Intranet system, said Buddy Eller, an STP spokesman. And it's looking to expand that offering.

The site employs 1,200 people, he said, and many live between 25 and 40 miles away, so it seemed like a convenient solution.

"The reason it works for us is we have a lot of employees who work similar shifts and schedules out here," he said, explaining the site operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Other companies are also considering similar projects, Garcia said, explaining future vanpools might become more widely available in Matagorda County. But nothing has been decided yet.

"Everything takes time," he said.



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