Early-Adopter Seniors Have Totally Taken Over the Ride-Sharing App Via

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Twenty-seven percent of Via riders are over 55.

Via, the very-easy-to-use ride-share start-up, works like a mix between Uber and the city bus. In September 2013, it began by offering rides between the Upper East Side and midtown for $4. It’s since upped that to $5 for a ride anywhere between 110th Street and the southernmost tip of Manhattan but spent almost no money on advertising — the founders were concerned about keeping up with what they assumed would be massive demand. As a result, Via’s remained mostly off the radar, except with one group: senior citizens: 27 percent of Via riders are over 55, with 10 percent of those checking in at older than 65 (only 30 percent are between 25 and 34). 

I was one of the first, actually,” says Elaine Appelle, 65, who joined two and a half years ago after her Upper East Side building manager sent around a flyer “suggesting we avail ourselves of the opportunity.” But “for some reason everyone else in the building seemed to throw the notice out, so I never even shared a ride.” Appelle says she helped debug the system, emailing in if she noticed any kinks in the app and acting as de-facto marketing. “I couldn’t understand why other people weren’t taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity, so I told my friends in the building and they started using Via, my husband started using it, my daughter takes it now, her friends take it.”

They should do a little bit of advertising, it wouldn’t hurt,” suggests Harriett Gordon, 81, who started using Via this fall after her 8-year-old grandson introduced it to her (they keep getting younger now, too). She likens it to the ride-shares she used to help organize from Riverdale to Manhattan before the express bus debuted in the early ’50s. “I actually told someone who I was seated next to at Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. He was a younger, 40ish person who uses Uber, but he never heard of it. In fact, my granddaughter downloaded the app for him on his cell right then.”

Adele Ribolow-Berk thinks she found out about it last winter from Crain’s, but it also might’ve been word-of-mouth because, at 83, she says, she can’t quite remember. “The nicest thing is somehow I always manage to get in the front seat. I’m always sending emails to them about the drivers and how nice they are.” For a certain set, apparently, that star-rating system just isn’t quite expressive enough.

“We’ve tried Uber, but it’s more expensive and we like the idea of having people get on,” says Jo, 86, who started using Via when she and her husband, Dick, 88, moved here from Alaska last January. “We were having a hard time at first, and they were really helpful in teaching us how to order a car, so I baked them bread and sent it to headquarters with a driver.” As it turns out, there’s an even more specific group for whom an email just isn’t thanks enough. “They got a kick out of that!”

”I’ve actually met a couple of friends through the share-ride,” says Elaine, that earliest adopter. But her husband, Jerry, 70, hasn’t had the same luck: “There isn’t much interaction between the passengers,” he complains. Elaine interrupts — not so! “Jerry’s quieter than I am,” she says. “I talk about restaurants and show recommendations, and the woman who does my facials now was recommended from someone I met in a Via.”

*This article appears in the December 14, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.