There’s another Uber-like app in town and they are yet to figure it all out
ViaVan — The New Challenger to Uber
There is no doubt that Uber has become one of the technology success stories of the last few years. The mobile app has established itself as a multi-billion dollar company and a household name, and completely changed the way that we think about hailing a taxi.
But now there’s a new cab on the rank…
Launched in April this year in the UK, ViaVan is a new challenger to the highly successful Uber in London. Partnering with Mercedes-Benz, the new upstart provides private rides, but their foremost offer is an equivalent to the well-known ‘Uber Pool’; a shared ride service that provides people with an alternative to public transport.
ViaVan is intended to combine the convenience of a taxi trip with the affordability of mass transit, and it has already created something of a stir in the media. Shortlist noted that ViaVan is potentially much cheaper than Uber, a comment that is certain to make people sit up and take notice.
Chris Snyder, ViaVan’s chief executive, told Business Insider in April that the service was adequately licensed for the UK, while also providing a higher commission to drivers than Uber, and taking drivers’ safety and well-being more solemnly than their notorious rival.
“It isn’t in ViaVan’s interest to flood the roads with lots of drivers”, Snyder noted, “because its technology is about getting people from A to B more efficiently, and in fewer vehicles.”
And while the service which was initially solely launched in Zone one and two, ViaVan has just been made available up to Zone 5 and airport customers. Certainly, this is a potentially dangerous challenger to Uber’s supremacy, but how do its haughty promises actually stack up in the real world?
To test this notion out for myself, I decided to give ViaVan a try. And, boy, it was an entertaining journey! Although, when I say ‘entertaining’, I don’t necessarily mean this in an entirely positive manner!
Have you ever waited 15 minutes for a taxi driver? And not at 3 am in the morning in front of a club! Well, that was precisely my first experiences with ViaVan.
While the rides were cheap and ‘shared’, I found that I was almost certain to end up alone in the car for the whole journey. However, I should note that since then, they have come a long way, and their chicken and egg hurdle has been both addressed and diminished.
The app has already started to become famous. Indeed, its growing popularity means that I am increasingly sharing some of these rides with other users. Damn, the glory days are over!
Their value-added and key focus is on sharing rides with others.
So let me set the scene of a typical ViaVan journey for you…
You are on your own and getting ready to go out. So you open the ViaVan app and book a ride. This is all rather similar to booking an Uber cab, but there is one fundamental difference. There is an uncertainty at the heart of the ViaVan experience.
It’s at this point that the suspense begins to build up. Will you be in there alone? Will you have someone next to you stinking of cigarettes? Drunk people? Conversely, maybe it will be the love of your life sitting next to you! Who knows?
One night, I decided to venture into London for an evening’s entertainment. It was 8 pm, and I travelled into the city in order to join some friends of mine for a pleasant dinner. The perfect opportunity to try out ViaVan!
So I engaged the app, made a booking and waited. Some minutes later, sure enough…the ViaVan vehicle arrives! The driver picks me up in a white Toyota Prius, and I soon find a man named David sitting next to me. Such is the unpredictable world of ViaVan! This is definitely not the ideal service for the socially awkward!
Needless to say, conversations were kept to a bare minimum. Nonetheless, we still stopped on the way to pick up another person.
Well, I say another person..it wasn’t just one person! In fact, what was supposed to be one person turned out to be a group of three friends, and, unfortunately, the driver’s car was authorised to carry only 5 people.
The driver was forced to lower his window and address the group:
“I can’t pick you up, you need to cancel the ride, re-book and select three passengers! “
He then abruptly drove off. I rolled my eyes. “Drunk people”, I thought to myself. Until it happened again! 😱
A few weeks later, I was the sole passenger in a ViaVan car, and we picked up a couple. They had only selected one passenger (again!? 😑), but there was enough space, the driver was friendly enough, and he was still willing to pick them up. So we parked the car for a few minutes, in order to help them out with changing their booking to two passengers.
This was inconvenient enough in itself for me… Like a racehorse in the gate; I was mad to go! And in the end, it wasn’t even possible to execute the change! Instead, the driver asked them to message ViaVan to change the ride to two passengers, and we drove off. Several minutes later than we should have!
How the couple requested a booking change on the app:
Our driver Kalil was as surprised as the arrival of Monday morning by this apparently worrying issue. He stated that it occurs on a regular basis. This is when it hit me. While I personally had never needed to select for two passengers, it struck me that I didn’t even know where it was located on the app.
It also sounded like a definitive user interaction flow, and it was obvious to me that this gulf in knowledge and basic functionality would have a massively negative impact on ViaVan.
From my “on-the-go” user testing I could observe:
1⃣ Users forget or get confused regarding where to add the number of passengers;
2⃣ It happens enough to be a pain point for users (as a modest user I experienced it twice within weeks);
3⃣ Neither drivers nor users have the ability to change passengers once the ride booked.
So why is it a problem?
1⃣ Users may not get picked up;
2⃣ The driver may stop the car for some time to figure it out with passengers;
3⃣ The driver is taken away from the road, as the issue always takes several minutes to sort out.
So… Where is this “Add a passenger” button? 🤔 I am glad you asked… let’s review their app flow.
Can you see it? It is similar to the “Where is Charlie” game… 👨👨👧👦 If you haven’t spotted it, go back to the flow. It’s on the second screenshot.
So design-wise what is happening? ViaVan fails on 4 of the 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design, defined by Jakob Nielsen in 1995. I can see that myself — and I am no designer!
❌ Fails to match between systems and the real world
Viavan fails to make the “add a passenger” button appear in a natural and logical position.
Let’s take a step back…we all know how to call a taxi. We call and ask the driver to pick us up in A to get to B, and that we need a car for perhaps 6 people so we ensure they have a big enough car for us, and 20 pieces of luggage of unneeded clothes! And then finally ask how much it will cost, so that you can adequately split the bill with your friends.
While the design was intended to be minimal, it took away the natural flow. We will see later with competitors’ designs how they solved this issue.
❌ Fails to be flexible and efficient to use
It feels like the flow of the system isn’t user-friendly, and it consequently fails to be comprehensible for new and inexperienced users.
❌ Fails to embrace the minimalist design
As we mentioned earlier, there’s a natural flow when ordering a taxi, ViaVan failed to reproduce this in a logical way. They tried to “simplify” the flow of the process by adding the passenger’s option on the welcome screen. But this may be confusing or even overlooked by users. So the idea of minimalist design and simplicity is lost on this system, often making the process of ordering through ViaVan confusing and unduly complicated.
❌ Fails to help users recognise, diagnose, and recover from errors
The app doesn’t confirm to you that you will only have one seat. This simple feature would have helped prevent any errors.
Now, here’s how the competition is delivering multi-passengers shared rides.
Uber - Shared Ride Flow
Lyft - Shared Ride Flow
It is clear that competitors ask the question directly to users, just as would occur on the phone with a taxi driver: How many passenger seats do you need?
Based on the above, here is my hypothesis for ViaVan:
By providing users with an extra step in the booking flow, enabling them to select the number of passengers, ViaVan will decrease ride cancellations, shorten time to arrival, and improve customer satisfaction.
I can’t emphasise enough how important this will be for ViaVan, now that I’ve tested the company out for myself. Trust me… being interrupted in the middle of a taxi ride, in order to sort out some booking issue for another passenger is annoying and inconvenient, like having a tooth filled. And it’s even more inconvenient for them when it can’t be resolved, and they have to book another driver!
Ultimately, ViaVan will live and die by its ability to offer the sort of convenience that passengers already enjoy with Uber. Yes, the service is particularly affordable. Yes, they have some good ideas. Yes, it has potential. But this potential will not be realised until the clumsy booking flow is seriously improved, as customers will simply go elsewhere.
They will know that they can book an Uber, and the overwhelming likelihood is everything will run like clockwork, which is critically important in a bustling metropolis such as London, in which time is always at a premium.
I admire the ethical ethos at the heart of the company’s mission. And affordable prices are always a winner. Yet my core message to ViaVan would be…make sure you get your booking flow right…and make it fast!
P.S: To ViaVan — I hope this blog post is useful, although I’m certain that you have quite a few issues to focus on at this point. And to any readers…have you experienced the same problem with ViaVan or other similar issues? Do you have any positive experiences of riding with ViaVan? Please share your views in the comments section.
P.P.S: If you liked this, give me at least a dozen claps for good luck ;)