The Texan City of Arlington is the latest addition to a growing list of cities that are introducing ride-share services to their streets. In an effort to make transportation throughout Arlington more efficient, the ride-share service platform, Via, has taken to the city’s streets, with the aim of totally replacing the city’s public transportation system.
The New York-based ride-share platform, Via began service in Arlington in December of last year. Via began services in Chicago, New York City, and Washington D.C. over the past few years. Currently, Via operates 10 vans in Arlington, which is working to shuttle the city’s population of 393,000 people across 99 square miles (256 square kilometers).
The only fixed bus line in Arlington, which is the state’s third-largest city, used to run between The University of Texas at Arlington and a commuter train station, and was operated by the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). Following the introduction of Via, operation of the bus line has been suspended, only to be replaced by Via’s ride-share services.
Customers looking for a ride-share can book a seat in a six-passenger van through the Via app. Through Via’s technology, the app will match them with others taking their same route. Riders can pay a flat, per-ride rate of $3 or on purchase a weekly ‘ViaPass’ at $10. But unlike other ride-share platforms, Via does not depend on predetermined pick-up and drop-off stations across the city, says Alex Lavoie, U.S. general director of Via. “We’re going to pick you up within a block or two of where you want to get picked up. We’re not going to pick you up at a few fixed pickup locations within the city.”
Currently, Via only operates within a select number of areas within the Arlington area, mostly downtown and near The University of Texas at Arlington. But, to the city’s mayor, Jeff Williams, replacing the city’s inept public transportation system with a ride-share platform maximizes transportation across the city. He said to Planetizen that he knows it’s a pilot program and if anything were to go wrong, “we can go onto something else. It’s a fraction of spending $50 million a mile for light rail.”
Despite plenty of room for improvement, Via seems to be successfully taking flight in Arlington. According to a CBS report, that can be found on the city’s website, Via has already completed 5,000 trips at a 97 percent customer approval rate. The reason, however, the ride-share’s rates are so low is that the city currently partially funds the ride-share’s fees.
The people in Arlington abandoned public transport long before this project since they did not see the merit in developing public transport. In years past, the city’s residents have ardently opposed spending public funding on developing and maintaining the city’s transportation services. At the time, the city’s remaining bus line was still operating, the line that ran through downtown garnered only 100 riders a day. Arlington residents voted against funding public transportation three times since 1979 and instead voted to fund redeveloping a stadium in the city.
Last November, the Californian City of Sacramento announced its plans to introduce Via to the city. Contrary to Arlington, however, the city’s mayor, Christopher Cabaldon, envisions Via’s services to work alongside Sacramento’s existing Yolobus system rather than replacing it. The pilot program will cost the city $700,000 and will serve to make public transit in Sacramento more profitable by focusing its buses and resources on certain routes, rather than running what the mayor called ‘ghost buses’ throughout the city.
The introduction of ride-share platforms in tandem or to substitute public transportation systems in American cities comes at a time when cities in other parts of the world are working to improve public transit networks as opposed to abolish them altogether. And while the Mayor of Sacramento believes in improving public transport is to improve profitability, the Mayor of the French City of Dunkirk, believes that public transport is a right and should improved and maintained accordingly. Public transportation will be made free in the French city as of this year.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that “Via” was formerly “Bridj.” The two companies are not affiliated.