Via's CEO explains how the company is beating Uber and Lyft at shared rides - and building better public transit networks at the same time

Via's CEO explains how the company is beating Uber and Lyft at shared rides - and building better public transit networks at the same time
Via Transportation CEO Daniel Ramot

Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch


CEO of Via Transportation Inc. Daniel Ramot speaks on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2018

  • Via CEO Daniel Ramot didn't mince words when it came to the problems with Uber and Lyft, and the detrimental effects of personal vehicles on crowded cities.
  • Ramot said he looks forward to taking the shared-rides provider public in the future, but stopped short of a timeline.
  • In addition to a consumer service, Via provides software for transit operators in more than 100 cities, including school bus networks.
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Uber and Lyft ruined the term ridesharing for everyone else, rendering it useless.

That's according to Daniel Ramot, cofounder and CEO of the ride-hailing service Via, which operates both consumer shared-ride platform and sells its services as a transit operator to more than one hundred cities around the world.

"They sort of co-opted that term, unfortunately," Ramot said at an event hosted by Bloomberg and Cornell Tech on Tuesday evening, referring to the fact that most of Uber and Lyft's rides are not shared between multiple passengers at once; they're private.


Via, on the other hand, provides only shared rides and has found success in both the consumer marketplace and with enterprise customers, by licensing its services to cities that want to augment, improve, or completely replace their analog public transit systems.

It all began in New York by "convincing people to get into vans with strangers," Ramot said. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people far from transit connections in the Upper East Side of Manhattan got hooked, and Via quickly spread, avenue by avenue, taking inspiration from shared Sherut taxis in Ramot's home country of Israel.

"We see ourselves as enabling transit systems to be more efficient, more effective, and move more people," Ramot said. "Frankly, to beat the private car."

Doubling down on his goal of ending private-car ownership, a goal shared by Uber and Lyft, Ramot made a rather blunt comparison.

"Driving by yourself or taking a taxi alone," he said, "and please don't hate me, is basically the same as walking into a Kindergarten and lighting up a cigarette and smoking. That's what you're doing. You're inflicting second-hand smoke on all these poor people."


The appetite from cities appears to be huge. Via's consumer ride-hailing service, mostly consisting of black SUV's is now live in several North American cities. Its enterprise product, both a licensed software and a completely Via-operated "transit-as-a-service" product now exist in 115 cities.

The next frontier: School buses

Since Ramot last spoke to Business Insider in 2019, Via inked a deal with the New York City Department of Education to provide software for the district's entire school-bus network.

Like most public bus networks, school buses are an analog form of transportation. This can make them inefficient because, in many cases, their routes might intersect and overlap.

Ramot pointed to a 2018 snowstorm, in which thousands of students, many with special needs, spent hours on school buses, with some not arriving home until 4:30 in the morning. The City Council then passed a law requiring officials to track and be able to tell parents where buses are at all times.

"That was the genesis of the idea," Ramot said. "We'd never really thought of school buses, but for us it was part of this vision to be the digital infrastructure for everything, including school buses."


Now, every driver will have a tablet and run a basic version of the Via software. The passengers, however, won't be customers, they're kids on the way to and from school.

Of course, transporting kids presents an added risk and leade to privacy concerns. Other startups attempting to be the "Uber for kids" have learned this, too.

"Unlike some other companies in the space, we don't consider this data ours," Ramot said. "We consider the data to belong the department [of education]. So we cannot sell the data for marketing. This is something we have to get right."

And then there's the question of profitability

Ramot declined to share any hard financial figures with the roughly 200-person audience assembled at Bloomberg's global headquarters, but he did express a clear desire to take Via public at some point in the future. That revelation shocked some people in attendance.

"I'm pretty bullish on ride-hailing," Ramot said, when asked directly about Uber and Lyft's underwhelming 2019 IPOs.


"I absolutely think there's tremendous value that's already been built," he said, adding that "there was a promise made by companies like Uber and Lyft about how big they were going to get and how quickly, to their investors and the public. That was really only possible, to me, by discounting the price very significantly."

He continued: "At the end of the day, it is a taxi service and should probably be priced close to a taxi. If it's priced that way, then it's a profitable service and makes a lot of sense."

Of course, growth has required discounts across all ride-hailing companies: Uber, Lyft, Via and most anyone else. Uber and Lyft have both tried to raise prices as their investors ask for profits, but have found the duopoly makes that perhaps more difficult than previously imagined.

Ramot, for his part, looks forward to that pressure from outside investors.

"We absolutely have a goal to take this company public," he said. "I think we should be subject to the scrutiny of public markets. We do something that's very public, so I would absolutely like to go there."


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