Via CEO Cheers on NYC Congestion Charge as Incentive for More Shared Rides

March 20, 2019

By Carlo Versano

At least one ride-sharing company is cheering the news that New York is getting closer to implementing a congestion fee. Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via, said congestion charges are generally a "good thing" and fit within Via's own mission, which is solving traffic problems in cities and providing cheap solutions to problems that public transit can't solve.

A Manhattan congestion tax, which puts together "two words that everyone hates," as Ramot said, has long gestated in New York's state legislature, but has never before received the support needed to pass. Two things have changed that now make it more likely: the disrepair of the city's subway system, and Democrats taking control in Albany.

For cabs and ride-hail providers in the Big Apple, a congestion surcharge has already been in effect for weeks. Lawmakers voted last year to implement a base fee of $2.75 for private rides (Uber, Lyft), $2.50 for taxis, and 75 cents for shared rides (Via's bread and butter). That new charge has already had a "significant impact" on Via's business, Ramot said, as the higher cost of a private ride has forced commuters to consider cheaper, shared rides instead.

From a policy perspective, Ramot said commuters must be given a practical alternative if they're forced to pay a toll to get into a city's central business district. In New York City, options abound between the decrepit but still relatively efficient subway system, and the thriving network of private for-hire vehicles. Other, less-dense cities aren't so lucky.

In cities with less-than-optimal public transit options, Via has worked with municipal governments to provide a "last-mile solution," exemplified with its partnership with the city of Los Angeles to provide commuters with subsidized rides to the nearest transit hub.

But in New York, Ramot said, a congestion fee for all private vehicles ー not just for-hire cars ー makes sense. After all, roads are one of the few examples of public infrastructure that we don't pay directly to use (and if you've driven on a Manhattan street lately, it shows). A tax would help people rethink how they use public streets in a more efficient manner, he said.

For full interview click here.