On his way to work at Hudl headquarters, John Prauner often reads a book on his Kindle, something he has little time for when he's at home with his three small children.
Right now he’s reading "Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions," recommended by a co-worker, which applies computer science strategies to everyday life.
Some days Prauner, who is part of a new commuter service, spends his 45 minutes of van time talking to friends. Often the commuters will do work — emailing or chatting — something not too intense, said Prauner.
Once every couple of weeks, Prauner is the driver of the 15-passenger van that takes Hudl employees who live in the Omaha area to their jobs in Lincoln’s West Haymarket and back home again in the evening.
Hudl’s white Ford van is part of a new grant program, using federal funds channeled through the state, to encourage more ride-sharing for work.
Two companies — Hudl and Gallup — are participating in the van pool program, being operated by Enterprise Rideshare.
The first rural van pool, expected to begin May 1, will be for employees at the Department of Agriculture in Clay Center, said Kari E. Ruse, transit manager for the state Department of Transportation.
In Nebraska, the transportation department has contracted with Enterprise Rideshare to run the entire operation, including owning the vehicles and providing the insurance, under a three-year, $882,000 contract.
The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, offers up to a $400 a month subsidy for each van pool, reducing the cost for commuters.
The goal is to provide commuters with an alternative mode of transportation that is cost-effective, reliable and environmentally friendly, Ruse said.
The grant program could fund up to 20 van pools this first year, more in future years.
Currently 14 Hudl employees are signed up for the 45-minute commute between the Gretna Walmart parking lot and Hudl’s Lincoln offices, with an average of 10 making the trip each day, said Prauner.
Gallup’s van pool makes the trip in the other direction, heading to Omaha from northeast Lincoln each morning in a 12-passenger van.
Twelve people have signed up for the van pool, though not everyone rides every day, said Keri Chambers, who manages the Gallup van pool.
Each van pool picks its vehicle and amenities and creates its own system.
Gallup has one employee who is comfortable with the large vehicle and does most of the driving.
Hudl commuters share the driving. And the driver of the day — 12 have been approved — gets to pick the music, though the driver’s choice can be vetoed. Country western music is banned.
The Hudl van has Wi-Fi available and satellite radio. Gallup workers use their own data plans or wireless hotspot devices.
Gallup had a bus contract for Lincoln employees for several years. But as the number of riders decreased, that wasn’t cost-effective, Chambers said.
The van pool is less expensive for commuters and more convenient, she said.
Alli Pane, a copy editor for Hudl, was comfortable moving to Omaha from Lincoln because the van pool existed and she didn’t have to worry about her commute.
And the cost — $35 every two weeks — is similar to garage fees if you drive your own car, Prauner said.
Hudl subsidizes the van pool slightly and deducts the van pool fee from riders' paychecks, making the bookkeeping easy.
Van pooling works with the company’s culture: “We are a family,” Prauner said. And Hudl, viewed as a tech leader in the state, is also proud to be among the first in the state-sponsored van pools, he said.
The van pool is also part of the company’s recruiting tool for prospective employees who live in Omaha, said Dan Hill, a commuter and legal counsel for Hudl.
“It’s been a pretty resounding success,” he said.