ViaVan: public transport that drives where you want

Public transport on request, that is the goal of ViaVan. As of this month, the company has a network of 50 mini-vans in Berlin that will pick you up at ‘virtual stops’. 

Co-founder Chris Snyder: “Now people are driving in a five-seater car alone in the same direction as other people. But in my opinion, driving alone is the same as smoking.”

Public transport needs to be as easy to use as your own car is right now, according to ViaVan. Their fleet in Berlin will soon grow to 300 vehicles. And the company is growing fast. ViaVan, a spin-off of the American Via, is taking Europe by storm.

The Beginning

What is ViaVan?
“Giving everyone everywhere access to easy, affordable and sustainable public transport. That is our goal.”

How does it work?
“Our goal is to revolutionize public transport by swapping fixed driving routes and timetables to an on demand and dynamic transport system. We are convinced that public transport on demand is more convenient and more efficient for transporters and travelers. The smartphone has a key role by performing lots of tasks in a smarter way.”

Which problem do you solve?
“The city traffic is so congested because people are creatures of habit. Every day they make the same ride. When you want to break this routine, public transport should at least offer the same ease. Our idea is to offer shuttles on request as an addition to trains, cars and buses. Then people are more inclined to make the switch to public transport.”

Where works ViaVan already in practice?
In Berlin our intelligent algorithm is in charge of a network of vans, which is fully implemented in the public transport system. We are live in New York, where we started in 2013, and in Amsterdam. Eventually, we would like to look for cooperation with transporters and city governments all over the world.”

How did you come up with this idea?
“ViaVan is a joint venture from Via and Mercedes Benz. One of the founders was waiting for his bus in 2012. It was extremely hot, he was sweating and had a multiple-transfer journey ahead for only a short distance through the city. He thought: ‘why is there no flexible bus service that adapts to the traveler instead of the other way around?’”

The Now

How does it work for a traveler in practice?
“We have patented the idea of a virtual bus-stop; that is the location of the ViaVan-app where the traveler meets the transporter. Sometimes it can be very nearby, but it is always within walking distance. We offer subscriptions with the Via-pas, such as a weekly ticket with an unlimited number of trips. Drivers will get 24/7 support via the app.”

What is the difference between ViaVan and Uber?
“With ViaVan you reserve a seat instead of a whole car. In my opinion, that is a complete different vision of efficient usage of vehicles.”

What if supply and demand don’t connect?
“That is our challenge. Everyone wants to go to the same locations. This immediately proves why ViaVan needs to exist. We have developed technology and algorithms that figure out how many cars are needed where and when. Too much or too little supply is increasingly automatically recognized.

The Future

Which trends do you see in the sector?
“The use of public transport will decrease and the number of citizens in cities will increase. Tech-companies realize that ‘mobility on request’ is important and therefore they are interested in creating similar solutions. Finally, I see that cities and transporters realize that when they respond to the ease of travelers, they will win in the future.”

Were your expectations from AIA18 fulfilled?
“Unfortunately, no top ten rating for us, but we are happy with our participation. We have been able to tell our story to other participants and we have been inspired by their stories. Such conversations give you a lot of energy.”

What is your golden tip?
“The biggest challenge is to come up with something new that really adds value and improves human life. Make sure that your innovation does this and on individual and social level.”

*) ViaVan participates in the Accenture Innovation Awards 2018 in the theme Mobility.


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