Here’s a test. You’re in Seattle, trying to get to a destination that isn’t easily reached by public transit. What mode of transportation do you turn to?
For many people, the answer is Uber and Lyft. While these services are filling in gaps left by public transportation, they come with drawbacks. Ride-hailing apps can be costly and result in more carbon emissions per passenger than public transit. Plus, travelers often take Uber and Lyft instead of public transit, rather than just using it to complete the last mile of their trips.
Transportation authorities in the Seattle region are trying to change that. King County Metro, Sound Transit, and City of Seattle are partnering with a ride-hailing company called Via to fill public transit gaps. Employees at Grist, an environmental publication based in Seattle, tested out the new service by racing to hard-to-reach Seward Park using different modes of transportation. Grist producer Jesse Nichols won the race by taking a bus most of the way and then transferring to Via.
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“Transit is great for the environment but in some neighborhoods, like this one, there just aren’t many options,” Nichols explained in the video. “Now some cities are looking to ride-hailing models for solutions.”
Via is a New York-based company that partners with public transit agencies around the country. The service is similar to Uber and Lyft but all rides booked with Via ferry multiple passengers at a time. Uber and Lyft also offer carpooling options for travelers who don’t mind sharing their rides.
The year-long pilot program with Via launched in April thanks to federal grant funding. Riders in five transit hubs in Southeast Seattle and Tukwila can use the Via app to call for a ride and pay using their bus passes. It costs the same as a standard bus fare to take Via to complete a trip to or from transit.
Seattle transit agencies will continue to test the Via partnership before deciding whether or not to expand it to additional service areas.