Passengers in a Via car await a new passenger. Passengers in a Via car await a new passenger. Passengers in a Via car await a new passenger. (Photo: Courtesy Via)

Carpooling to work gets a modern makeover

Ride-hailing service Via, available now in New York and Chicago, plans on coming to your city soon.

Take the popular ride-hailing service Uber, toss in a carpooling aspect, and you get the basic idea behind Via.

The service allows users to hail a ride using a smartphone app. Ten minutes later, an SUV will show up to take you where you need to go. But with Via, when you open the door to the car, you'll see other riders headed in the same direction.

In a dense city like Manhattan where there is no shortage of people needing rides, Via offers a time-saving alternative to taxis, Uber and public transportation like the subway. Passengers are asked to help with efficiency, and walk to the nearest corner. With a flat fee of only $5 for a pre-paid ride, users are saving cash and reducing their carbon footprint by sharing a ride.

Daniel Ramot, the company's co-founder and CEO, told From The Grapevine that he and his partner got the idea for Via from growing up in Israel where a private system of minivans follows public buses and offers rides to those who wish to carpool. "We thought by adding a layer of technology to that service, we could create an efficient system that could work very well in a city like New York."

Riding in a Via car is a social experience. "I think there's a feeling of camaraderie amongst the riders," Ramot says. "And I think whether it's a commuter or whether it's going out on an errand or on your way to the dentist, or to pick up the kids from school – how you get there can really influence your mood. One thing we strive for is that Via really helps improve your day."

A passenger hails a Via car via a smartphone app.A passenger hails a Via car via a smartphone app. (Photo: Courtesy Via)

Just ask Amy Herman Schechter, a realtor in New York City. "On one ride, I met a producer of the 'Dr. Oz Show' who was really nice," she told From The Grapevine. "I also met a young guy who just was starting to work in New York and lived a couple blocks from my family. He was so excited to be meeting new people. It was really sweet. It actually made my ride more cheerful."

Schechter says she uses Via about three times a week. "It's definitely the most efficient and most affordable way to travel – and it feels very luxurious," she says.

Via already operates in New York and Chicago and, with a new round of $100 million in funding, hopes to expand to Washington, D.C. and other dense urban cities. The company, which assists tens of thousands of passengers each day, also hopes to help municipalities and transit authorities seeking to improve their public transit services by using Via’s technology.

Ramot believes Via is creating a new transportation category. "We're in between taxis and buses, so we see ourselves as a complementary service mostly to the existing transit system." Ramot runs the operational side of the company in Manhattan while his partner, Oren Shoval, manages the technical development office in Tel Aviv.

Both co-founders are in their 30s and are enjoying their ride atop a hot new startup. Ramot previously worked for a firm that helped discover new pharmaceutical drugs, but finds figuring out the best way to get across Manhattan a more perplexing challenge. "I get a lot less sleep," Ramot says with a laugh. "I definitely work a lot harder, but it's fun."

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