Jersey City, NJ had a transit challenge. A patchwork of state- and locally run systems connected parts of the city, but other areas faced “transit deserts,” making it difficult for residents to commute or get around without a car.
Expanding the legacy transit system to reach these districts was too expensive; it also wasn’t practical. So Mayor Steven Fulop’s office looked for alternate solutions.
Building a Broader Public Transit System
The goal of the rideshare program was never to replace the city’s current system; it was to expand it. Downtown Jersey City has plenty of transit options — buses, trains, ferries, and bike share, to name a few. But once you get to the north and south parts of the city, things become less connected.
The new request-based rideshare option boosts mobility across the city. More residents can get around town without paying for parking. They can get to the grocery store without a car. They can commute in a more environmentally friendly way.
At the same time, more neighborhoods are connected to the downtown core, which could open up business and development opportunities.
How it Works
Riders order a pickup using an app (there’s also a phone line for people without smartphones). Via then connects the requestor with other riders traveling in the same direction, creates an optimized route, and sends riders to a “virtual bus stop” (aka a nearby corner) to be picked up. Most of the time, the wait is around 12 to 15 minutes. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are available upon request.
Like other rideshare programs, routes are managed in real time. If there’s traffic, the driver will be rerouted, ensuring passengers have the most direct and optimized route possible.
Rates start at $2 for rides within the Downtown Zone. For rides in the “Outer Zone,” a 50-cent surcharge is added per mile. Riders can pay via the app or with cash.
A Win for the Environment
Not only is the on-demand bus system more efficient for riders and city budgets, it delivers some big environmental benefits, too.
Whereas traditional bus routes involve continuous driving and idling, whether or not there are passengers, the Via system is a “use only when needed” approach. The vehicles are only using gas when passengers need them, and they’re smaller than standard city busses. Ten percent of the current fleet is made up of electric vehicles and the city plans to add more in coming years.
A More Connected Future
The city debuted its fleet of bright purple Via vehicles, which can hold up to 15 passengers, in February 2020. After two weeks, the program had completed more than 5,000 rides. Many of these were commuters, though there were leisure riders too (at this time the service is only available on weekdays).
But as the service gains momentum, Mayor Fulop estimates up to 150,000 riders per month will use the busses. Some day, thinks Fulop, this service may encourage residents to go car free:
“I think, longer term, some residents will make the decision that with a system like Via maybe they don’t need a car. They don’t need the headaches of parking issues, insurance issues and all of the maintenance issues for a car.”
Previously, Jersey City has utilized a similar on-demand ride app called United Rescue to launch a citizen emergency response service. Together with initiatives like an open data portal, these efforts illustrate the city’s innovative use of technology to optimize local government operations.