“When we told people we were going to launch a shared ride-service in New York they told us we were crazy,” says Chris Snyder, the chief executive of new kid on the block, Via Van.
Six years later, and Via Van is the provider of 1.5m rides across key US cities and 60m rides globally.
Using algorithms, customers of the app book a ride and will find their
request matched with a vehicle going to the same destination. What will turn up is a six-seater Mercedes Benz, sometimes filled with fellow riders, sometimes not.
Last year, Via Van brought its business case to arguably one of the hardest cities to crack – London.
Setting up here wasn’t easy because of the tough regulatory environment, and it took about a year to get approval.
Earlier this month, however, it received the good news that Transport for London (TfL) – which has had a testy relationship with ride-hailing apps, most famously Uber – had granted it a further three-year licence to continue its operations in and outside the capital.
The licence grant, which Via Van says is the longest TfL has gifted to any operator, seems to dispel the myth that hardened City types would not take to ride-sharing.
“The truth is millions of people share an armpit with a stranger every day on the Tube,” Snyder says.
“Yes they’re sharing a ride, but it’s very convenient and also very popular. It’s also very effective in providing sustainable transport. We have saved 550 tonnes of CO2 in our first year of operation.”
These may be impressive stats for a newcomer to what has become a crowded market, but how does Via Van differentiate itself from the raft of ride-hailing apps that have sprung up in the capital?
As it stands, Londoners can choose from apps including Bolt (formerly Taxify), Kapten, Gett, Uber and Addison Lee, to name a few.
Via Van, like many of the other apps in the market, is often described as an Uber rival, referring to the total dominance the latter has enjoyed in London and globally.
But Snyder is keen to point out that what he is offering is very different to the recently-listed US tech giant.
“When we entered the London market, our goal was never to compete with Uber in providing single occupancy rides in the city. We didn’t think that was the solution for London of the future,” he says.
“London deserved and needed an on-demand share product. I’m just not sure that London needs another Uber. I’m not sure how it benefits London or its future, I think that’s frankly the past.”