Last MileStartupsTechnology

Via, on-demand mobility app, rethinks public transit in Birmingham and Atlanta’s Buckhead

Imagine if Uber and public transit had a baby. 

Meet Via – an international on-demand ride-hailing service that operates as the first and final mile to public transportation. If no public transportation operates in a section of a city, Via acts as the primary shuttle. By partnering with public transit authorities, Via adapts to the needs of the city and operates as a third arm to public transit. 

All cities or campuses have their unique transportation problems. Some residential areas are transit deserts, where residents feel beholden to their private vehicles to get around. Some residents can’t afford a car, don’t have a smartphone, or the technological literacy to download an app. Late at night on college campuses, students don’t want to wait for a shuttle, so they walk home, which can be unsafe. Via believes that all residents need affordable and efficient methods of transit, and since bus-ridership is waning, it’s rethinking the efficiency and reach of public transportation. 

Since 2013, Via has joined forces with 80 cities and partners, including the Los Angeles Metro, Transport for London, Sydney’s Transport for New South Wales, and Berlin’s Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe. Headquartered in New York City, Via has raised $387 million in venture capital. 

Just last week, the Buckhead Community Improvement District announced a one-year $607,000 contract with Via. This would make the first microtransit system in the Atlanta area. Via has yet to publish a release with further details. 

The City of Birmingham, Alabama and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham also announced a new partnership with Via. Starting in December, the six-month pilot will provide “affordable, convenient and reliable transportation options for residents,” said Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via. The service costs a low flat fee of $1.50 for Birmingham residents. 

The City of Birmingham will pay $250,000, and the Community Foundation will pay $502,000 to launch the software and shuttles for the pilot program. 

“Via’s powerful passenger matching and vehicle routing algorithm is the solution to improving access in transportation deserts, seamlessly integrating into the existing public transit infrastructure to connect residents to work, education, healthcare and opportunities in their communities,” Ramot said.

Via brings public transportation up to 21st century expectations, by extending and complementing pre-existing routes. While Via’s service resembles that of Uber or Lyft, it’s different in that it matches passengers with seats rather than entire cars using predictive routing and sophisticated algorithms to match vehicles with passengers. 

It also differs from Uber and Lyft in how it recruits drivers. In smaller cities like Birmingham, Via drivers are often employees of the pre-existing transit authorities, but in major cities like New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., Via drivers operate similarly to Uber and Lyft drivers, except they have the option of being paid by the hour. 

In Birmingham, Via will operate Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Using the app, riders will be directed to a street corner, an “invisible bus stop,” to be picked up. The Mercedes Metris vans used by Via are wheelchair accessible; the drivers can take cash or be ordered by telephone call. 

“The on-demand and curbside service allows more flexibility and convenience for me in traveling from my home to the doctor and shopping,” said Amy Thornton of Elyton Village. “I’m particularly pleased that it will also service disabled travelers as well.”

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.