ViaVan aims to change the way we travel
There aren’t many jobs where your achievements have a direct benefit on your family and friends and on the residents of the city that you call home. But for Yariv Hauer, ViaVan’s general manager in Amsterdam, his firm’s successes are relayed first-hand to him by the people that he loves. “Hearing my friends talk about how ViaVan has made it much more fun for them to travel to work or across the city makes me extremely happy and proud,” he explains, “and as an Amsterdam resident for me to be a part of ViaVan’s journey in the city and around Europe is incredible.”
ViaVan’s journey actually started with Via, an on-demand transit platform founded with the aim of re-engineering public transport, from a system of rigid routes and schedules to a fully dynamic, on-demand network. Via’s mobile app connects multiple passengers who are headed in the same direction into a shared vehicle. It was launched in New York in 2013 by Israeli founders Daniel Ramot and Oren Shoval, who came up with the technology after being inspired by Israel’s ‘sherut’ taxis – shared taxis which run throughout the country. Via’s technology powers more than 45 services around the globe, and has provided more than 45 million rides since it launched.
Via and Mercedes-Benz Vans team up
ViaVan is a newer joint venture in Europe between Via and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz Vans. After passengers select their pick up and drop off location in the ViaVan app, Via’s powerful algorithm seamlessly assigns a vehicle in real-time based on the most efficient route that will also utilise the vehicle for sharing in the best way. ViaVan says its system can transport a high volume of passengers using only a fraction of the number of vehicles required by taxis or on-demand car services, reducing traffic and carbon emissions.
After launching in Amsterdam in March 2018, ViaVan has now provided more than 400,000 rides in the city, and Hauer, who lives in Amsterdam Oost, isn’t shy about the firm’s ambitions. “We want to build the future public transportation of Europe,” he says. “We want to solve urban transportation problems. The challenges are varied, but essentially we’re building a platform which isn’t an alternative to public transportation but is the future of public transportation. Via’s technology enables us to take a holistic view of the city and start matching the people that want to go in the same direction to the vehicles that are most efficiently fit for that purpose. I think in 10-20 years all of our public transport will do this, except for very high-demand routes where it makes sense to have a train or bus in operation.”
An affordable and sustainable way to travel
One of the key reasons people might choose to use a ViaVan is its affordability: it offers services at a lower cost than might be expected by someone used to paying private taxi fares. It’s this cost-effectiveness and flexibility which Hauer says inspires people to choose ViaVan over standard public transport networks, ‘normal’ taxis or even over using their own car. “We have seen that across our services, people migrating to them as soon as they launch,” he explains. In Amsterdam, rides within the central city zone are mostly cheaper than €5.
Another fundamental part of ViaVan’s core ethos is its aim to be as green as possible. “Sustainability and improvement of urban life is in our DNA,” says Hauer. “We try to take as many vehicles off the road as we can.” ViaVan says by sharing vehicles its riders in Amsterdam saved more than 500,000 kilometres being driven in 2018. “We are three times more efficient moving passengers than single-use vehicles,” he adds. “We also have a very clear view on the future of public transportation where we see it as being shared, electric and autonomous mobility. We are also investing in integrating electric mobility into our platform: in Berlin 80 percent of our vehicles are already electric, and we’re working to increase that to 100 percent.”
How Amsterdam leads the way in smart mobility
Beyond its ViaVan service in Europe with Daimler, Via also provides its shared ride technology to cities and public transit operators in cities around the world, such as the BVG in Berlin. These dynamic shared mobility services help to complement existing transportation infrastructure and allow people to make smart choices when travelling around and in and out of cities. It’s this adoption of smarter choices when travelling that Hauer says has been the biggest change in smart mobility in the last 10 years, with more people using on-demand schemes and shared services, including car- and scooter-sharing schemes. He says the move to emissions-free will be the next significant change in the industry. “Amsterdam is definitely leading the way in that regard,” he adds, citing Schiphol’s fleet of electric buses and the city’s huge amount of charging stations.
Each city comes with its urban and smart mobility challenges, and Amsterdam is a special case. The city’s Canal Ring, rivers and cycling culture might seem like big obstacles to overcome for any sort of taxi service, but Hauer says ViaVan’s Amsterdam launch has been a revelation. “Amsterdam so far has been a huge success for us,” he explains. “It is one of the more innovative and open cities in Europe, and it also has a big focus on sustainability and reducing congestion. There’s lots of innovation, pilots and ideas here, and I am sure in the future Amsterdam will be at the forefront of implementing even more innovative smart mobility solutions.”
Using tech to revolutionise public transport across Europe
In general, ViaVan is now focusing on revolutionising public transport in Europe by introducing its solutions in different cities, working as a ‘second layer’ of public transport, often in public-private partnerships. These include new services already planned for Germany and Finland. “For us it’s about finding the right partners and making mobility in a city or area much more efficient. That’s the future. In Amsterdam there’s a myriad of opportunities for more services like this, and we’re having those conversations with the City of Amsterdam and its neighbouring municipalities.”