ViaVan is a joint venture between Mercedes and US tech start-up Via (Photo: Daimler)

ViaVan, a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz Vans and US tech start-up Via, has gone into operation in the center of London following its European launch a few weeks earlier in Amsterdam.

New York-based Via has developed the software algorithms to calculate efficient real-time routes for riders to ‘pool’ their journeys in a shared, professionally-driven Mercedes-Benz Vito Tourer or V-Class MPV.

The Via app is based around the concept of virtual stops where passengers can get on or off: travel requests of people wishing to go in a similar direction are ‘bundled’ and users are directed to a nearby pick-up point on a ViaVan vehicle’s route. The algorithm aims for minimal diversions from a route to collect or drop off passengers, and the ride is charged at a fixed-price rate in the city center. Any additional time- or distance-based surcharges to travel to or from outlying areas are identified at the point of booking and payment is via the app.

ViaVan is presented as a system to complement public transport in a city, and is said to be priced between conventional transit and local taxi fares. It has been operating in New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, since its establishment in 2013, and claims to have served over 30 million successful trips in the USA so far.

The company is working to obtain the necessary permits and licences to operate in further European cities, including Berlin, and Mercedes-Benz is upfront about the longer-term aims of the joint venture. “The focus on the long-term strategic partnership is on the use of battery-electric and thus locally emission-free vans, as well as on autonomous driving,” it said in a statement.

In parallel, Daimler’s moovel Group mobility subsidiary has also been testing an on-demand ridesharing service in Stuttgart: FlexPilot is to join the city’s public transportation network by mid-2018.

Susanne Hahn, Daimler’s director of business innovation, told AutomotiveIT recently: “We work with independent companies worldwide. We currently have [business] incubators in Beijing, Silicon Valley, Berlin and Stuttgart… That’s one path. The other leads us to the start-up world. In the end, we want to capitalize on external inputs and collaborate in the right areas. The goal behind the strategy is clear: we want to execute ideas on an accelerated basis and put innovations on the road even more quickly."

- Farah Alkhalisi