Commuters Find Easier, Cheaper Way To Get To Work

HANCOCK COUNTY (WLOX) -- These days, some employees are leaving their cars at home and their frustration over fuel prices behind.

"We have 12 people that were all driving our cars to work, and now we're riding in one van," said Iris Despain.

Despain is one of the commuters who have been taking advantage of the Coast Transit  Authority's van pool service since March. Every morning, two vans pick-up the 24 workers from two locations in Slidell and take them to Stennis. Hans Ngodock, who works at Stennis, drives one of the vans.

"I signed up because the cost of gas was rising, and I saw it as a cost-saving benefit," said Hans Ngodock.

The commuters at Stennis are basically getting a free ride to work. Through federal funding, CTA is able to subsidize each van for $400 a month. The U.S. Navy gives each passenger up to $115 a month, to cover additional costs for gas and for leasing the van.

"I think it's saving me personally, the wear and tear on my car and gasoline, up to $150-$200 a month now," said Despain. "It's a lot of money."

To keep up with the demand, CTA added a third van pool at Stennis. That service started rolling on Tuesday.

"It's really catching on right here on the facility," said CTA Director Kevin Coggin. "There's a lot of interest in what we're doing, and we're looking at rolling out another two to three van pools on this property."

As long as gas prices continue to rise, so will the program's popularity.

"I'll ride it as long as the program is there," said Ngodock.

Workers at Northrup Grumman are also participating in the van pool program. Thirteen vans are in use at the Pascagoula shipyard. The CTA is hoping to start a van pool service at the Biloxi V.A., Keesler Air Force Base, Chevron in Pascagoula, and for Jackson County employees.

By the way, the CTA will be participating in "Dump the Pump" day on June 19th. The agency will offer free rides all day to encourage people to consider public transit as a way to beat high gas prices.