- Mobility solutions company Via and St. Louis Metro Transit (Metro) launched on Monday an on-demand transit service, Via Metro STL, in North and Southwest St. Louis County.
- Transit riders in the two service areas can hail a shared ride through the Via app to any of the designated transit stops (detailed in the image below). Service will be free through August, after which Via Metro STL rides will cost $2.
- To keep riders safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, Via said it provides a wellness check with every ride booking; asks riders to wear masks; limits the capacity in each vehicle; enables contactless payment through the app; has installed plastic partitions in all of its vehicles; and cleans each vehicle "thoroughly" throughout the day.
The launch of Via Metro STL marks the city's first offering of an on-demand transit service to help bolster public transit use, especially as the city slowly relaxes stay-at-home orders. Doubts regarding the post-coronavirus resurgence of public transit have been cast nationally due to rider hesitations and fears of crowds, but Via Metro STL can help riders slowly transition back to their normal shared commuting practices while maintaining affordability and convenience.
In an interview earlier this month, Via CEO and Co-founder Daniel Ramot said the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for flexibility in urban transportation, and presents an opportunity for companies like Via to rethink the use of technology across the industry.
"We used to say that demand for transportation can change minute-by-minute and then we see demographics and demand change year-over-year," Ramot told Smart Cities Dive at the time. "Now what we’re seeing during the pandemic is that everything is condensed, the demand is different week to week."
Via is also trying to remain diligent in protecting riders from COVID-19, most notably by offering contact tracing in line with public health guidance. When asked what data is used for contact tracing, a Via spokeswoman told Smart Cities Dive that the team "securely investigates any driver or rider reports of potential COVID-19 infection and will notify local authorities of incidents when appropriate."
In Marin County, CA, a similar on-demand transit service was recently launched through a partnership with Uber. Area riders can now utilize Connect2Transit, a Software-as-a-Service integration that allows riders to connect with public transit services through the Uber app. That partnership will enable the Transportation Authority of Marin to understand "exactly how on-demand transit in a flexible route structure can support COVID-19 recovery efforts in getting folks back on to transit," amid drastically decreased transit ridership.