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Via Chicago: The Lower-Impact Form of Ride-Hailing Expands Its Local Coverage

A Via vehicle.

Streetsblog readers are familiar with the many downsides of the ride-hailing boom. It's increasing driving, congestion, pollution, and crashes; it's reducing transit ridership; it's killing the taxi industry; and the list goes on. But ride-hailing is awfully convenient, especially during times of day when transit doesn't run frequently or at all, and it's artificially cheap due to companies being propped up by venture capital.

You can lessen you ride-hailing guilt, and get even cheaper rides, by using by using carpooling options like Lyft Line and UberPool, which result in fewer vehicle miles traveled per customer. It can also be kind of fun to take a ride in a car with strangers if you're in an outgoing state of mind.

But a third, less famous option allows you to reduce your ride-hailing footprint a bit more. Via represents a compromise between the carpooling services and a bus. The company's mobile app connects multiple passengers who are headed the same way, but instead of being picked up right where they are, customers walk a block or two before and after the ride to streamline the route, so the driver doesn't have to veer off course. Like a bus, if the customer doesn't show up on the corner at the appointed time, the driver continues without them. It's a little more effort (and exercise) for the riders, but it reduces miles traveled, as well as costs for passengers, and wear-and-tear on vehicles.

The Chicago pickup and drop-off zones.
The Chicago pickup and drop-off zones.
The Chicago pickup and drop-off zones.

This week Via expanded its Chicago service area, which previously included a swath of the city from 79th Street to Howard Street, plus the airports, to include the Hermosa, Humboldt Park, and Mayfair neighborhoods, as well as Evanston. This grows the square mileage of the coverage zone by more than 20 percent.

All ride-hailing companies like to pay lip service to the idea that customers are using car rides as a first-and-last mile solution for transit trips (although some of Uber's and Lyft's advertising is blatantly anti-transit.) But Via's Evanston pricing actually provides an incentive to use its service that way. All shared rides within the suburb will be a $3 flat fee.

"Via aims to be a key first-and-last mile solution for the commuter-heavy suburb, connecting residents and commuters to rail stations without the need for a personal vehicle," the company stated in a press release. Of course, it's likely that some Northwestern students will also use the service to travel between their dorms or apartments and classes instead of walking, biking, or riding buses there, which wouldn't be a great thing for congestion or their health, but at least they'll be using multi-passenger vehicles. 

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