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The rides not taken: improved mobility for people without private vehicles

For some riders, a Via-powered microtransit service is their only transit option — whether that’s due to location, financial status, disability, or a host of other reasons. In this series, we investigate this group of riders, who report that they would not have been able to travel without Via. What do they have in common, and how can we better serve them?

Via Transportation •

We know that up to 35% of riders in Via-powered services would not have been able to make their most recent trip without Via. But why were the riders who made these trips otherwise unable to travel? We’ll explore a variety of reasons — income level, disability status — in future articles, but we’ll start with the factor with the strongest correlation: car ownership.

Across all Via’s services, 87% of these riders reported that they did not have access to a personal car. Among riders who did have an alternate mode of transportation, only 51% reported that they did not have access to a personal car. In short: riders who could not have traveled without Via were ~50% less likely to own a car than those who could have traveled regardless. 

This makes a lot of sense when you consider Via often collaborates with cities and transit agencies looking to extend the reach of a conventional, fixed-route public transit system. Our teams collaborate to prioritize transit-spare areas of the city or region that are particularly critical to serve, using a variety of metrics, including rate of car-free households, to design on-demand zones that will have the greatest impact on mobility. For example, in the South zone of the Via Metro STL service in St Louis, Missouri, just a few bus lines serve a wide swath of the city characterized by pockets of car-free households. 

In a low-transit environment, living without a personal car can mean expensive taxi trips, waiting for rides from friends, or long walks along roads unfriendly and dangerous to pedestrians. Car-free life is not only inconvenient in these areas — it can inhibit access to everything from healthcare to employment. As one rider of METGo, a Via-powered service in Wise, Virginia said: “[My] car blew up on the first day at a new job, and if it wasn’t for METGo I wouldn’t be able to keep working.”