Metro, Newton

NewMo Riders Can Now Travel Anywhere in Newton

NewMo, a low-cost rideshare service sponsored by Newton, has expanded to allow users to ride anywhere they want within the city. For Susan Cassidy, a West Newton resident and a first-time rider, the service is terrific, she said. 

“I thought it was too good to be true,” Cassidy said. “And so, I gave it a whirl, and it was lovely.”

Previously, NewMo users could only select from one of limited transit or town centers to serve as final destinations for their rides, but not anymore. Users can now travel anywhere within the city. Additionally, users ages 13 to 17 can now ride NewMo alone with adult consent, according to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s Oct. 22 community update

For just $2, or $0.50 for qualifying low-income Newton residents, per trip users can hitch a ride through NewMo Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., a half-hour earlier start time than previously offered, according to the city’s website. New users get their first five trips free. These changes went into effect on Oct. 25. 

On the NewMo app, users enter their payment information, select their location and desired destination, and book a ride, just like any other ride-share app. 

Nicole Freedman, Newton’s director of transportation planning, said the service is a hybrid version of public transit. The service is partly funded through the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Community Connections grant program, according to the city’s website.

“You know, as a city, our goal is to have more sustainable trips and fill a gap in public transit,” Freedman said. “So just like Lyft or Uber, you tend to go on your phone, you use an app to book your trips, [and] you would book them in real-time.”

NewMo launched in 2019 as a service for senior citizens, according to Via Partner Success Associate Principal Brian Kerrigan. Via is the transportation company that provides cars, drivers, and logistics for the rideshare app. 

In July 2020, NewMo launched a new pilot program open to anyone, which allowed users to take trips to one of 10 designated locations, Kerrigan said.

“But I think ultimately [with the pilot program], what we found was that it was a little restrictive,” Kerrigan said. 

With the limited service locations, Kerrigan said it was hard to persuade residents to rely on the app as their sole mode of transport. 

“Now, anyone in the city can ride anywhere in the city they want within the service hours,” Kerrigan said. “That’s had a huge impact and has really increased our overall ridership.” 

There have been almost 30,000 rides since the service began in 2019, and 500 to 600 trips per week are expected in the near future, according to Freedman. About half of NewMo’s users are non-seniors currently, according to Freedman.

Cassidy’s trip from her home in West Newton to Galen St.—a few blocks from Watertown, Mass.—was one of the first trips after the program’s expansion on Oct. 25. But, the rain jeopardized her plans, she said.  

Cassidy considered walking the 4-mile trek or taking traditional public transport, but ultimately decided to try out NewMo, she said. 

A NewMo minivan arrived 10 minutes early, Cassidy said. NewMo’s goal is to provide reliable trips with average wait times of less than 30 minutes, but occasionally longer, according to Fuller’s update. 

“The car was clean … it was just me in the car,” she said. “And the driver was great to chat with. Honestly, it was a lot like using Lyft or Uber which we also occasionally use but this one, this is much more cost-efficient.”

Aside from sanitizing their hands before rides, NewMo users are asked to wear a face covering and sit in the rear of the vehicle for the duration of their ride, according to the city’s website. 

Additionally, NewMo might require users to walk the final few feet to their destination or share a ride with others. 

“It was practically door to door,” she said. “You know, I had to walk a little bit. I didn’t mind that. And I wouldn’t have minded it if I had to share the ride with somebody else.”

Freedman said NewMo’s small driver pool offers a personalized experience for users like Cassidy.

“The difference between Lyft and Uber and this is that this is a much more personalized system,” Freedman said. “We know all the drivers and it’s important that they’re friendly and helpful—good ambassadors for the city. So I think the higher pay allows us to really be able to provide the better customer experience.”

NewMo drivers earn $29 to $37 an hour, according to the website. The wage accounts for national labor shortages, Freedman said. 

“We want to deliver, you know, a really reliable, high-quality system, and that means making sure we have enough drivers on the road,” she said. “So, you know, having a higher pay rate.”

Via, which handles NewMo’s hiring, is recruiting new drivers, Kerrigan said.

Currently, NewMo is focused on delivering the new service options and listening to feedback from users, Freedman said.

“Right now, I think we’re focused on, you know, delivering the best experience possible within [the] service hours we have,” Freedman said.

In the future, though, Kerrigan said the service potentially could expand its hours of operations to weekends or nights.

“There’s always more people I think who can be served,” he said.

For example, Cassidy said students and teachers could benefit from NewMo as well. She said overall the new service is promising.

“I really feel like this will catch on,” she said.

Featured Image Courtesy of Ellen Ishkanian

November 7, 2021