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Save money, time with Fort Polk’s Mass Transportation Benefit Program

Save money, time with Fort Polk’s Mass Transportation Benefit Program

Story by Angie Thorne on 03/11/2019

By ANGIETHORNE
Guardian staff writer

FORT POLK, La. Sit back, relax and let someone else do the driving for a change with Fort Polk’s Mass Transportation Benefit Program (MTBP). The program was established in 2000 for eligible employees and military service members to reduce pollution and traffic congestion, preserve the environment and expand transportation alternatives.
To be eligible for the program an applicant must be employed by the Department of Defense civilian, military or non-appropriated funds.
Commuters taking part in MTBP are eligible to receive as much as $265 per month toward their van pool fee. That amount is dependent on the distance traveled. “If you live in DeRidder, you aren’t going to get that amount. It will be a lesser amount and you may have some out-of-pocket expenses,” said Terry Sadler, Fort Polk MTBP coordinator. “But even if that’s the case, you already have out-of-pocket expenses while driving your own vehicle, so you are probably still benefiting in other ways,” he said.
The program provides flexibility when working with its participants, said Sadler.
“There may be times a person can’t ride in the van because they have something scheduled that’s going to require they have their own vehicle. That’s fine. From a policy standpoint, as long as you don’t let the time you ride in the van dip below 50 percent each month, you can maintain your full benefits. If you ride less than 50 percent of the time, you might have to pay your portion for that month out of your own pocket,” he said.
Tyler Robertson, Commute with Enterprise sales executive, said his company provides vehicles to programs like the Fort Polk’s MTBP. That partnership contributes to the commuting capabilities of the Fort Polk work force traveling to and from Fort Polk daily from surrounding communities.
Cities and towns that are 20 miles away or more are eligible to participate in MTBP.
“Right now the program is set up in places like DeRidder (three commuter vans), Alexandria (three commuter vans) and Florien (one commuter van), but if there is enough interest, the program could be set up as far as Lake Charles and Natchitoches, which is one of the reasons the program is trying to get the word out.
“We would love to set up commuter vans in more locations,” said Robertson.
The main requirement is there must be at least four people riding in the van. Robertson said it’s a seven-seatbelt vehicle, so four people is the minimum they need, but if more people sign up, the company’s largest vehicle is a 15-passenger van. There is a DeRidder van with 12 active commuters.
Sadler said any commuter who lives farther than 20 miles away from Fort Polk should consider taking part in this program.
“They can save on wear and tear of their personal vehicle and if they are government employees or Soldiers, they are provided a benefit that helps pay for their participation,” said Sadler.
He explained that what a commuter pays depends on how many riders there are in the van. For instance, if you have a seven-passenger van and there are only four people riding in the van, then there are going to be some out-of-pocket expenses. “The mass benefit program will only cover a certain amount for the total cost of what Enterprise charges for the rental or lease of the van,” said Sadler. “I’ve personally participated in the program off and on for the past 10. The most that I ever had to pay out-of-pocket for riding in the van for a month was $50. I would probably spend $100 per week driving myself.”
The way Enterprise determines the cost of riding in the van varies. Robertson said it depends on a formula of how many people are riding in the van and the distance driven. After that they factor in the gas which can also vary depending on the price of gas that day.
“If 10 people were coming from DeRidder, and eligible for the MTBP program benefit, there would likely be no out-of-pocket,” he said. “If only four people were coming from Shreveport, there would probably be a some out of pocket expenses, but usually if you can get five or six people, most expenses are covered,” he said.
Those shared expenses on the Enterprise vehicle include insurance, gas, wear and tear, upkeep and more.
“Your average commuter to Fort Polk, driving his own vehicle, is probably paying about $400 per month for the same expenses,” said Robertson. “So, financial benefits to the commuter can be anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 per year in savings. It depends where you come from.”
Once there are enough people from one location with an interest in commuting, Robertson said he works with everyone to come up with a central meeting spot in town such as a store or church parking lot.
“Commute with Enterprise takes care of that aspect. Once commuters agree where to meet each day, I talk to the person in charge of the parking lot to make sure that there are no issues,” said Robertson. “We also want to make sure the people that sign up work a similar schedule. Are they all 8 a.m.-5 p.m. or 9 a.m.-6 p.m.? If someone is off by an hour, we try to figure out if they are able to change their shift a bit. It’s usually not a problem,” he said.
Other than financial benefits, the program can also help reclaim some of your time, said Robertson. “That’s a big thing. If you let someone else do the driving, you can spend time doing anything from watching movies, reading or studying to checking emails, Facebook or catching up on some work,” he said. “It can also reduce stress. After all, if you are saving money and taking a nap, you are probably getting home a little more relaxed.”
People do different things with that extra time, said Sadler. “In my van pool, we’ve had times that everyone would get in the van and catch up on sleep to and from work,” he said.
Robertson said he hopes the program provides Fort Polk with healthier, happier employees, as well as reduced parking and congestion on post and at the gates, not to mention the fact that fewer cars on the road means better air quality and a reduction in carbon emissions.
Commute with Enterprise is the largest van pool provider in North America and van pooling is the safest mode of public transportation in the United States, said Robertson.
“Our goal at Fort Polk is to not only save commuters time and money, but also to connect and improve our communities. We love working with partners, such as Fort Polk, to do that,” he said.
Sadler said he appreciates the privilege of participating in the Army’s MTBP program.
“It’s afforded me the ability to get to know people that I wouldn’t have known otherwise and gives me options for transportation,” he said.
Robert Ellis, assistant MTBP coordinator, said he thinks the program is an awesome privilege for DoD employees.
“Having commuting options is amazing. You look at where we are geographically and there aren’t that many mass transit options available to us to go from place to place. This is an invaluable opportunity. The program will hopefully continue and grow,” he said.
Certain groups are not eligible for the benefit.
These include contractors, unpaid interns and more.
Sadler said that doesn’t mean they can’t participate in the van pool. “They can still commute in the van pool, but they aren’t eligible to participate in MTBP and government doesn’t pay their part. They have to pay their fee themselves,” said Sadler.
For more information about the program send an email to terence.l.sadler.civ@mail.mil or robert.b.ellis32.civ@mail.mil.

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