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Need a Ride in New Brunswick, N.J.? There’s an App for That

RIDE On Demand, a new shared on-demand transit service in Middlesex County, N.J., aims to give riders in the county seat more transit options and reduce traffic congestion. It arrives Tuesday through technology provider Via.

via app
On-demand transit provider Via has partnered with more than two dozen communities across North America to offer app-based transportation, much like Uber or Lyft.
Micro, on-demand transit is becoming as common as the smartphones enabling it — and travelers in one central New Jersey city stand to benefit.

Starting Tuesday, transit riders in New Brunswick, N.J., will be able to download RIDE On Demand service, from Middlesex County Area Transit (MCAT) and powered by Via transit technology.

The RIDE On Demand service is operated by the Middlesex County Department of Transportation as an additional service to the MCAT. It works much like ride-hailing or a taxi, where a passenger can be picked up from anyplace in New Brunswick and dropped off at any location in the city. Rides are shared, which means there could be another passenger in the vehicle as well.

“This means residents now have another affordable and convenient option for getting around New Brunswick, alongside MCAT’s fixed routes and reservation-based services,” said Khalid Anjum, department head for the Middlesex County Department of Transportation, in an email. The program will be funded “using money set aside specifically for new and innovative transportation solutions,” he added.

Dozens of communities across the country, from major cities like Los Angeles to small hamlets like Winchester, Va., have introduced on-demand shared-transit options to areas where there was no fixed-route bus service. In other areas requiring a smaller transportation footprint, the on-demand van-like vehicles have replaced scheduled buses.

On-demand transit options, which many riders access with a phone app, have become increasingly common, adding to the variety of transit offerings as agencies aim to keep pace with changing and more fluid transportation needs.

“The ubiquity of the smartphone has certainly helped on-demand transit to flourish, since many riders find the app-based booking model to be an intuitive and convenient way to call a ride,” said Mike Vaccarino, head of North American partnerships at Via, a maker of on-demand transit technology.

“That said, we have many riders who are not smartphone owners, or are just not comfortable using apps,” he added. “Via’s goal is to expand access to transit for all citizens, which is why we also offer alternative booking options for riders, like calling a dedicated phone number, or in some cases, booking with an in-person representative at transit hubs.”

Last year alone, Via launched more than 120 on-demand transit services worldwide.

“So it’s no surprise that in 2024, we’re seeing booming interest from community leaders and their residents, who believe on-demand service would be a valuable asset of their local transportation ecosystem,” said Vaccarino. “The inclusion of ‘on-demand mobility services’ on the federal infrastructure bill also validates that we’ve entered a phase where microtransit is no longer the novelty, but a norm.”

RIDE On Demand will operate Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Rides will be free for the first two weeks before transitioning to the regular rate of $3 per ride.

“Middlesex County is committed to improving our transportation network and increasing mobility options for our residents to ensure our community is more connected and sustainable,” Anjum said. “Our goal is to reduce traffic congestion and protect the environment by embracing new technologies like electric and autonomous vehicles.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.