UPPER EAST SIDE — Move over, Uber.
There’s a new app to call a car service in town — and it only costs $4 per trip.
Luxury ride-sharing service VIA is hoping to gain traction in the Big Apple by allowing customers to book trips through an iPhone app that lets customers save money by helping them split rides with strangers.
The service, which picks up patrons and drops them off within a block of their desired locations, is able to keep its prices low because riders share trips with others going in the same direction.
“We want to offer what feels like a private ride experience," said co-founder Daniel Ramot, "at a shared price."
VIA is the brainchild of Ramot and Oren Shoval, friends who grew up in Israel. Many people in Israel use sheruts, or shared mini-bus taxis, to affordably get around, and Shoval suggested they bring the concept to New York.
Ramot, who was working in Midtown at the time, improved upon the idea by suggesting they use smartphone technology to power the service.
“I knew what a nightmare it was to try to catch a taxi home at rush hour,” Ramot said. “I thought, how great would it be if you could book a ride rather than standing on the corner and competing with three or four other New Yorkers for one.”
After thinking about crowded commutes in the city, they chose the Upper East Side as the site for a beta program to test the service. VIA contracts with a Manhattan car service that provides cabs from its own fleet, offering everything from SUVs to vans that can fit more than a dozen passengers.
The $4 flat rate includes tip, with the introductory price set so low as a strategy to attract users, Ramot said. Even if VIA does expand, the price for a single ride is likely to rise to between $6 to $8 per trip. However, the owners are committed to keeping the service affordable.
VIA, which launched in Manhattan last August, currently only offers rides during peak commuting hours, from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. It only takes customers from the Upper East Side who are located east of Third Avenue to a stretch of Midtown East roughly between Fifth and Lexington avenues from East 58th to East 30th streets.
Ramot said they chose this area because the public transportation options east of Third Avenue can be a challenge.
“People who live on York, First or Second are really poorly served by transit in their area,” he explained. “We thought this neighborhood could benefit from the service.”
Since its launch in August 2013, VIA has provided thousands of rides to Upper East Side commuters, Ramot said. Customers generally wait about six minutes from the time they book the trip to the time they are picked up, and they can even view their car's progress using the app.
Ramot said VIA's goal is to eventually expand into a 24-hour service operating throughout the city. While New Yorkers can vote on new routes for VIA on its website, for now the company is focused on perfecting the service where it currently operates.
Initially, many riders have heard about the service through word-of-mouth, he said.
Elinor Beltrone uses VIA about once a week, saying on a recent trip that she prefers sharing a ride to taking a taxi alone.
“The ride feels safer, [the driving is] less extreme,” she said. “It can also be really hard to find a cab around York Avenue.”
Beltrone noted that she frequently recommends the service to her neighbors and co-workers.
"People often say, 'What's the catch?'" she said. "But I tell them I haven't found one."
Jimmy Gonnot, who commutes from Yorkville to 57th Street and Madison Avenue, originally heard about VIA from his neighborhood dry cleaner. Gonnot said that he’s taken VIA between 20 and 30 times, and has always been very happy with the service.
“It’s fast, it’s convenient and it’s cheap,” Gonnot said during a recent trip. “A cab would normally cost me between $15 to $18 and Uber, because of surge pricing, could be anywhere from $20 to $50.”
VIA also offers perks to help build a sense of community among riders. For example, customers like Beltrone who recommend new riders to the service receive credits for free trips.
VIA also occasionally surprises riders with small treats from companies with whom they partner.
“One morning, they even had pastries for us,” Gonnot said. “They brought us chocolate croissants from Eli’s. That was really cool.”