A big part of the fun of New York City challenge of getting where you want to go when you want to be there – depending on your “style,” it can also be expensive and time-consuming.
But when you’re a dad (or mom), maximizing time on a budget means looking for bargains and not wasting time. So the Via rideshare service we tried on a weekender in NYC was a welcome surprise for comfort, speed, ease of use, and low cost. And except for a bummer experience on our way out of town (a tale coming in another post), Via performed magnificently uptown, downtown, midtown, and crosstown during a couple of days in Manhattan.
First the basics: Via is an app-centered taxicab/rideshare service operating in NYC, DC and Chicago. Primarily using a fleet of black Chevy Suburbans, Via’s promise is “we ride together” inexpensively and in an eco-friendly way (as low as $5-6 for one person).
It honestly sounded too good to be true, but following my wife’s recommendation (because I’m the World’s Best Husband and have a T-shirt to prove it), I said “I’m in!”
Here’s how Via works:
- Download the free Via app.
- Load up your Via account with $25, $50, or $100 via credit card (you save $2 a trip by pre-loading rather than pay-as-you-go and you can choose to replenish your credit at any time)
- When you’re ready to go, enter your destination and the number of passengers
- Within a few seconds, Via selects a vehicle and driver in your vicinity, tells you the cost, and directs you to a nearby intersection for pickup.
- Act fast – you only have a minute or so to “accept” the ride, at which point your account is debited.
- Via tells you how far away the vehicle is and lets you hone in on a black SUV icon to track its path to you.
- The vehicle arrives, the driver confirms your name, and you match the vehicle number and driver name match with the app’s information.
- You climb aboard (likely with other people – don’t forget the “rideshare” part)
Why Via Might Not be for You:
Via fully discloses two drawbacks that you may not like: (1) you may have to walk a block or two for pickup, and (2) you may be dropped off a block or two from your destination. For us, neither was an issue.
So what were our rides like? Is Via a good option for families, teens and tourists? Were the drivers mean or the other riders a pain? Did we have to stop a lot to pick up other riders and let them off? Were there any bad surprises? Would you use Via on your next trip?
Here’s a quick rundown of our weekend rides – and you can make up your own mind.
TRIP ONE: Don’t Park in the Crosswalk, Buddy!
Took Via from NY Penn Station to our hotel on 57th Street and Lexington. We were the first passengers onboard a black Toyota RAV4, and stopped twice for two other passengers, one of whom was dropped off along the route. The driver let us off a block from the hotel, but unfortunately he stopped northbound at the corner of Park and 57th, blocking the crosswalk. This misdeed raised some ruckus from drivers trying to turn right onto Park from westbound 57th while we unloaded our bags. Bad move, driver. The trip cost $8.71.
TRIP TWO: Smooth Sailing all the Way Downtown
We summoned Via mid-morning (10:30 am) from Park and 57th to take us way downtown to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. We expected a hefty fee – but it was only $6.53 for two of us, and we were the only riders in sweet Chevy Suburban all the way to our stop near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
TRIP THREE: Gettin’ a Little Tight in Here
Had to get back uptown after visiting the 9/11 Memorial and requested a car from Church Barclay. This trip took quite a bit longer, and although once again we were the first passengers, we stopped a handful of times to pick up and drop off other riders. When we stopped to pick up a fifth passenger in the Suburban I had to exit street-side on Sixth Avenue (in traffic) so the driver could lean my seat up for the new rider to squeeze into the third row. Didn’t feel safe standing outside the SUV in traffic waiting for that to take place, and the maneuvering was a little awkward for adults, but for another $8.71 ride, I dealt with it. Just one big happy “family” out for a ride uptown, and although I thought about saying “driver, she’s touching me,” I didn’t.
TRIP FOUR: Venturing into the Tourist Abyss
Had theater tix, and of course that meant Broadway/Times Square – exactly where many frequent visitors to NYC don’t go unless required since it’s become such a tourist trap. We thought the cross-town ride to 45th and 8th Ave. would be a hassle. But again we were the only passengers in the Suburban, and our awesome driver let us off directly in front of the theater! Luckily it was the matinee and there wasn’t a lot of traffic or people along the way. Cost: $9.74.
TRIP FIVE: What? Just a Car?
By the time the show was over the car and foot traffic near Times Square had increased dramatically, so we waited a loooooooong time on 46th and 8th Avenue (twice as long as the original 8 minutes promised) while the driver was stuck in traffic further to our west. This time the Via was a Toyota Camry – quite a bit less roomy than a Suburban, and not so easy to see the Via placard to make sure it really was our ride. Who knew there were so many small black cars in the universe? Cost: $9.74.
TRIP SIX: Sure, I Don’t Mind Standing in the Rain
Time to go cross-town for dinner with friends on Columbus and 62nd Street. This time, the driver was supposed to pick us up on the Northwest corner of Park and 57th. For every other trip so far the pick-up had been on the avenue – not on the street side. To make it more interesting it was raining, and the driver stopped around the corner from where the app said pick-up was supposed to be. Fortunately, the driver has your cell number, and you get the driver’s, so after a few minutes of trying to hear each other over the pouring rain, we finally made a dash for it down around the corner – getting ourselves soaked to the skin – to board another Chevy Suburban. The driver, to be kind, was clueless, and he stopped so far away from the curb that it was impossible to get in the SUV without wading through the puddle that is Manhattan when it rains heavily and quickly. Once he realized we weren’t getting in and were frantically waving for him to move forward, he pulled to the curb. He did, however, offer me a small napkin from his sandwich to wipe the rain off my face. Thankfully, he dropped us off right outside the restaurant. Cost: $9.74.
TRIP EIGHT: ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!
Our final adventure with Via was so exciting, I’m still coming down from it. “Via Part Deux” is coming soon!
I’ll be fair. For intra-Manhattan transportation, Via can’t be beat in terms of price, reliability, and comfort. I’m sure the natives don’t want you to know this, but it’s perfect for traveling families although I’m sure the more passengers riding the longer the wait will be for a vehicle. Via is cheap, except for a Camry and a RAV4 all the other rides were in roomy Chevy Suburbans, we were the first passengers on board every time, the drivers were friendly, and the vehicles were clean and free of garbage or odors. So yeah, I will use Via again on my next trip to NYC.
For older teens (especially traveling together), I have no hesitation recommending it for intra-Manhattan trips (after my trip I understand Via announced it now will go to Brooklyn and Long Island City, Queens). Parents will have to trust teens with the financial side of it, and for a shared ride service, Via seems safe. I could easily see a teen heading out in the evening on the subway and coming back home with Via, assuming all normal teen-parent communications were in place.