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

A Via vehicle.
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.

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. 

  • planetshwoop

    Via is a transit as charter schools are to public schools. It offers options, and possibly different products/level of service, but ultimately it bankrupts or sucks resources from transit.

    PACE has offered vanpool subscriptions for a long long time. This basically is a similar program but in the areas where there is decent transit already.

    They key to fixing this longer term would be to find incentives for private capital (venture capital) to create BRT, improve bus service, etc. Not suck resources out of it.

  • Courtney

    Wouldn’t it be better if we had safer bike lanes so folks could bike that first or last mile?
    It just seems so wasteful to hop in a car to go a mile or even a mile and a half.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I think the charter school analogy would be apt if Via was simply running vehicles up and down a bus route street with far fewer passengers and stops. But unfortunately many types of trips in Chicago just aren’t time-efficient using transit, especially during times of day with long headways between runs, or when many bus and train lines aren’t even running.

    For example, I live in Uptown and play music regularly at a bar near Irving Park Road and Pulaski Road in the Irving Park neighborhood. It’s only a four-mile trip, but doing it by CTA at 1 AM, after the gig ends, would take two bus rides and 45 minutes. The car trip takes 15 minutes. So, assuming I’m not taking my gear on a bike trailer (which I’ve been known to do), I’m going to take some kind of ride-hailing service.

    While Streetsblog Chicago has previously highlighted to the folly of taking short ride-share trips that could easily be done by other modes, there are definitely situations when it’s totally reasonable to choose ride-share over transit. If people are going to do that, it’s good that Via is offering a lower-impact option.

  • rwy

    It will likely mean more rideshare vehicles picking up or dropping off passengers in the Church and Davis St bike lanes. Church St between Orrington and Chicago seems to be a popular spot for Ubers and Lyfts to pick up passengers and yet it lacks even bollards.

  • Courtney

    Agreed, John! As much as I don’t like the impact Uber and Lyft are having on transit, there are some times I just don’t want to spend an hour or an hour and a half (the time it takes from Rogers Park to spend time with friends in Hyde Park) on the CTA. Sometimes I simply don’t have the time between activities to take transit. However, as the Chicago rideshare data shows, there are plenty of folks taking trips that could be easily made on transit. There is definitely PLENTY of room for improvement with CTA headways, bus frequency, bus speeds, etc but that takes political will in the form of funding and making decisions that may piss drivers off.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The solution for you of course would be more gigs at the Aragon, Riviera, Green Mill and (fingers crossed) Uptown Theater!

  • planetshwoop

    (I read this while waiting for the bus just next to the Independence Tap, so it’s cosmic!)

    First, your case is reasonable. But will it survive if it doesn’t get a subsidy from people who use it during the day to get to work? It seems likely that your ride depends on others’ folly.

    Second, most I encounter use it during rush hour to get from lake view or the West Loop.

    Realistically, transit uses the same subsidy and instead of venture capital, it gets tax dollars. But a big part of my opposition is, like charter schools, they can discriminate on who to take as customers more than transit can, which corrodes the system.

  • Gene Parmesan

    It would be a dream, but doesn’t solve every situation. If its pouring rain, or there’s lots of ice on the road, or other very bad riding conditions, I still want that ride share…

  • Courtney

    Sure but I think many of us can agree that the best thing for the planet would be to build as much bike friendly infrastructure and save the TNCs for “extreme” weather conditions.
    Another solution, IMO, would be to have electric driverless shuttle buses offering last or first mile rides to train station. They would of course be programmed to not block bike lanes or sidewalks.