Ride-share company ViaVan launched its first fully electric vans in the UK on Friday in Milton Keynes.
The company, founded in 2017 as a joint venture between Daimler and US startup Via, is starting with five Mercedes-Benz Vito eTourer vans and plans to increase that to 30 by 2020.
ViaVan says it has carried out more than 100,000 rides in Milton Keynes since it launched a year ago, and recently passed the seven-million mark in London.
According to chief executive Chris Snyder, Milton Keynes was picked as the first place to launch the e-vans in Britain because the city’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2030.
It is also a busy commuter hub, with a “last-mile” need for transport to take people to and from their offices and the station. ViaVan’s service allows users to summon a van via an app, and get picked up at a nearby corner, traveling with people going in the same direction.
“Milton Keynes is the city that was designed for cars, and the challenge is how do you make something attractive enough to convince people to take it,” Snyder told Yahoo Finance UK. “The bus…works in many places, but also doesn’t work in many places and we see on-demand shuttles as essentially a new layer to public transport.”
Snyder said that while there is only one London in the UK, there are hundreds and thousands of smaller cities and towns, with millions of inhabitants, where public transport is a much more challenging proposition.
“In some ways, the opportunity to improve public transport in somewhere like Milton Keynes may be one of the most pressing challenges from a transport perspective,” Snyder added. “Milton Keynes is exemplary in a sense of the challenges we face all over the country.”
‘A really interesting success story’
The Department of Transport is supporting ViaVan’s electric-fleet launch with a grant of £544,000. Transport minister George Freeman said that ViaVan’s launch “shows industry is taking full advantage of the support on offer from Government for those looking to switch their fleets to electric.”
Snyder said the Milton Keynes launch is “a really interesting success story already for how the public sector, cities, and private companies can work together to create solutions that work for people, work for cities, and are green.”
ViaVan has not run into the same kind of licensing problems with the UK as the likes of Uber and Kapten, something the CEO puts down to being a different kind of company and a collaborator with local public transport, rather than a competitor.
The startup’s collaboration with TfL does involve adhering to some data-sharing requirements, according to Snyder. “One of the obvious ways for cities to benefit from the new mobility explosion is to understand how new demand is being shaped, where are people actually going and using what modes.” The big goal is how to grow demand for public transport so there are fewer car trips in the long run.