As the Middle East’s start-up capital, Tel Aviv churns out business after business. Whilst tourists love the hustle and bustle of the city, for the everyday commuter, the network of minivans (called sheruts) mean multiple transfers and untimely travel. During a typical lengthy commute, Via co-founders, Oren Shoval and Daniel Ramot, began to wonder how useful a flexible, on demand bus experience, enabled by technology, would be. Enter Via.
Unlike other big-name players, Via didn’t start with the goal of making it easier to hail a taxi. Instead, its aim was to solve the public transportation problem. Today it is taking its “sherut 2.0” to Europe by partnering with Mercedes-Benz to form ViaVan. With global transport giants Uber, Lyft and Ola focused on the evolution of the private taxi market, Via and its European counterpart ViaVan are reimagining public transport.
CEO Chris Snyder talks us through the ins and outs of heading up ViaVan’s expansion across Europe.
So ViaVan has now launched across Europe - congratulations! You’re now in London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Milton Keynes. Does each new city require different approaches for the launch?
Totally, the geography of each city plays a crucial role. Configuration of the streets has a huge impact on our understanding of what each city needs. New York has very neat and tidy streets; London decidedly doesn’t. Because London is essentially a medieval city, it is complicated to navigate. We have to launch with an understanding of the significantly different geographies of each city, which, in London is very, very different from anywhere we had launched before.
Speaking of geography, London is on the larger end as cities go: was this something you had to consider?
Yes, the scale also plays a huge part in our consideration. London is the biggest geographic launch we have ever undertaken, so it was a significant effort to just wrap our heads around that. In the end, we decided to launch in Zones 1 and 2, but have expanded within one year to provide service through to Zone five and to Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports to truly provide access to efficient and affordable pooled transport city-wide.
Interesting, Zones 1 and 2 are the densest parts of the tube network - why launch in London’s busiest zones where you’ll be competing against it?
Obviously, London has an extensive public transportation network, but so does New York (relative to anywhere else in the US). However, what we are seeing now in New York, London, and Berlin is a lot of pressure on public transport.
There are always those who travel by private vehicle or on demand services, which has led to a decline in public transport use and a rise in city congestion. These competitive pressures for public services and liveability pressures on cities have created the need for sharing. This is where ViaVan fits in.
So, on the one hand, we see an opportunity to provide a better option. Even if someone is an avid public transport user, often a trip requires two or three connections. This opens a huge opportunity to provide a better service for those that public transport doesn’t work for.
On the other hand, our service directly benefits the city by reducing congestion, especially in London where congestion poses a significant problem. We do this by shifting people away from using private vehicles, towards using shared transport. In this respect, our on demand shared ride option presents the clearest benefit to the centre of London.
So, what is your mission behind creating a sharing app rather than a hailing app – how does this distinguish you?
Sharing has always been at the heart of our mission, our company and our technology. We aim to deliver more efficient, on demand, public transportation. We don’t aim to make taxis more convenient; in fact, we are very distinct from the traditional taxi offer.
The value proposition to our customer is our shared ride which has two benefits. Firstly, it provides an extremely affordable product for consumers, and secondly, it is an extremely efficient experience which doesn’t take people wildly out of the way.
This creates a really positive cycle that makes everyone better off, because our drivers also benefit. Not only do they earn more than our competitors; they’re much better utilised, meaning that less of their time is spent idle, and more time earning money. The more efficient we are in matching riders to vehicles, the more work the drivers receive.
Would you say that ViaVan is riding the cultural wave of sustainability with your stress on efficiency?
Absolutely. Sharing rides is one of the simplest things that you can do to have a positive impact on your carbon footprint. Collectively sharing a ride is just a super important goal.
Our first goal is to get as many people sharing as possible; this alone will make significant strides in enhancing transport systems.
Our long-term goal is electrification. In Berlin, we operate the world’s largest public sector on demand electric fleet, and in Milton Keynes we’re working with the local council to fully electrify our fleet this year. Against this backdrop, it’s positive to see cities like London and Amsterdam making concrete steps to push the electric market further.
For ViaVan electrification is the future, regardless of the challenges that it brings. So yes, our move to embrace this is deliberate. For today, our short-term goal is to encourage shared rides and a lower carbon footprint.
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