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Ride-Sharing Startup Via Launches the Largest U.S. ‘Micro-Transit' Service in California

Ride-Sharing Startup Via Launches the Largest U.S. ‘Micro-Transit' Service in California

Author: Eric Walz   

Many people in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond have become accustomed to hailing an Uber whenever they need to get somewhere. The rise in the popularity of on-demand ride-hailing has also opened the market to new companies offering electric scooters, e-bikes, car-sharing and other shared transportation options as an alternative to fixed public transportation routes. One of these companies is transportation startup Via, which is emerging as a leader in public mobility solutions.

The City of Sacramento has tapped Via to power its new service, which will update the region's existing SmaRT Ride system and bring new functionality to riders. Using the Via-powered smartphone app, customers will be able to summon a public transit vehicle to pick them up.

The new service in California's capital city is called "SmaRT Ride", and it officially launched to the public last week. It serving nine zones throughout the city. The service offers residents of Sacramento a more convenient and comfortable transportation options. SmaRT Ride also serves as a link to existing public transportation offerings.

Via bills itself as an alternative to city mass transit, which is often not as convenient since it operates on fixed routes, schedules and specific pickup and dropoff locations. Similar to how Uber works, riders will be able to hail a vehicle directly from their smartphone using the all-new SmaRT Ride app, which is available for iOS and Android devices.  

Via's technology connects passengers who are headed in the same direction, allowing multiple riders to share a single premium vehicle. Once a ride is requested, Via's app directs passengers to a nearby "virtual bus stop" within a short walking distance of their location for easier pick up and drop off.

The service is now the largest on-demand micro-transit system in the U.S., according to Via, with 42 vehicles picking up passengers. In Europe, Via operates the world's largest micro-transit deployment in Berlin, Germany, with approximately 175 vehicles picking up riders.

Via first launched in New York City in 2013.

"We are thrilled to partner with our innovative friends at SacRT to bring Via's technology to Sacramento," said Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via. "The all-new SmaRT Ride service is now the largest on-demand micro-transit project in the United States, making it an excellent example of how public transportation and technology can work together to make a city smarter."

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Via's technology connects passengers who are headed in the same direction, allowing multiple riders to share a vehicle.

Via technology uses advanced algorithms. Once a customer requests a ride through the Via app, the algorithm finds a vehicle that best matches their route.

The SmaRT Ride program first launched in February 2018 and, due to its popularity is growing across the city to bring shared transportation to even more residents. 

"We have seen great success with our other SmaRT Ride zones and we are excited to be able to provide this innovative mobility option to more communities," said SacRT General Manager/CEO Henry Li.  "This expansion is a huge milestone for SacRT as we continue to explore new transit options and improve access and mobility for our riders."

The service relies on small, neighborhood-friendly shuttle buses to easily maneuver on residential streets. The vehicles are also equipped to accommodate those with disabilities. 

"SacRT is truly embracing the future of mobility by providing a more comfortable, convenient, and affordable way to move around their community," said Sacramento Board Chair and SacRT Board Chair Patrick Kennedy.

Each ride costs $2.50 per trip, and $1.25 for seniors and persons with disabilities. Riders can also use their SacRT monthly pass. Groups of five or more riders get to ride for free. However to qualify for a free trip, all riders must travel together from the same pick up spot and be going to the same destination.

The service operates in West Sacramento Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

SacRT was awarded with a $12 million grant by the Sacramento Transportation Authority to help expand microtransit service into new communities throughout the region.

To support the expansion of its micro-transit services, the SacRT added six electric SmaRT Ride shuttles in the Downtown-Midtown-East Sacramento service area. Over the next six months, three additional electric shuttles will be added. The three new shuttles are being provided by Electrify America, a Virginia-based subsidiary of automaker Volkswagen that operates a nationwide network of EV charging locations.

Via also operates in Europe through its joint venture with Mercedes-Benz Vans, ViaVan.

In addition to launching in Sacramento, Via is currently operating a 18-month pilot in the Silicon Valley city of Cupertino, the home of computer giant Apple. 

Outside of California, Via operates in New York City, Chicago and Washington DC. Via has provided over 70 million shared rides so far.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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