NASHVILLE, Tenn. - While cities across the Mid-State have been working out how to pay for the new wave of mass transit, there's already something rolling on the roads.
It's called "vanpooling" where up to nine people carpool and drive together.
Growth can mean gridlock, and the Middle Tennessee ten-county region has been expected to grow by another million people in less than 20 years.
So NewsChannel 5 Traffic Anchor Rebecca Schleicher spent the day in a VanStar commuter van. VanStar is run by the federally-funded non-profit Transportation Management Association.
TMA Business Development Manager Chase Harper was behind the wheel during the ride.
"We look for people that live in the same communities and work in the same area with matching schedules," Harper explained how the vanpool matching software works.
Christine Bell has been one of VanStar's 900 riders. She's also cleared to drive after taking an online course and passing a test.
"When I'm not driving, it's nice to kind of sit back and relax and not be the one stressing about the traffic," she said. "It's nice to be able to ride with people and talk to someone."
Bell said vanpooling has saved her up to $200 a month on gas and wear and tear on her car.
"We're putting all that on someone else's vehicle," she laughed.
This idea isn't new. VanStar has been driving in the Mid-State since the 90's. But as traffic and parking become more of a road block, both employers and employees have been looking for other options.
"Anytime that we go into an office that doesn't have much parking, we put nine people in a van, that's eight parking spots they get back, and the same is true for traffic conditions," Harper said.
In the spring, VanStar won a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation sustainability award. From Jan 2015 to Jan 2017 the program saved 14.5 million road miles and 12 tons of pollution, Harper said.
And next week VanStar will add 20 new vans to the fleet to make room for even more commuters.
"I wonder why more people don't do it," Bell said.
The cost to vanpool with VanStar has ranged from $55 to $150 per month, depending on distance and number of people per van. Many employers will cover or subsidize the cost for employees.
Visit VanStar's website to learn more and see if you have any vanpool matches near you.