Via's largest on-demand transit service to date launches in Sacramento

Whether or not it helps solve transportation issues isn't certain.

Via just launched one of its most ambitious on-demand public transportation projects yet. The company has teamed up with Sacramento Regional Transit to roll out an expanded version of SmaRT Ride, billed as the "largest on-demand microtransit system" in the US. A total of 42 shuttle buses ferry passengers in nine zones across Sacramento, supplementing the existing bus and rail coverage. Like Via's other services, you just need to use an app or call a number to hail a ride and wait at a virtual bus stop for a shared vehicle.

It costs $2.50 per trip for most riders, but that drops to $1.25 for seniors and the disabled. It's free if you're either young enough for a RydeFreeRT pass or traveling in a group of five or more.

SmaRT Ride technically launched first in February 2018, but the city brought on Via to run a more comprehensive service that covers more areas and offers "new functionality."

As always, the aim of the on-demand system is to provide a service that's more convenient than conventional buses without the expense of ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber. This could cover mass transit gaps in areas where it's difficult to provide conventional bus or rail service, at least without lengthy wait times.

However, it's not certain that these services are always beneficial. Although there is a phone number to call in this case, SmaRT ride is still app-focused -- customers without smartphones will be at a disadvantage. And like Wired noted, on-demand systems like Via's can cost a city considerably more than it would to run a standard bus. While it's good to have more choices for getting around town, cities may have to do their homework to ensure on-demand shuttles are truly helpful.