Move people around a city without mass transit? This city says they’re doing it

Those Via vans that have been zipping around the center of Arlington are going to be sticking around.

This city that has been long been known as the largest in the United States without mass transit, appears to have found something that they believe is at least a partial answer to traditional public transportation.

Last week, the City Council approved another one-year contract for Via, the on-demand rideshare transportation program, which has provided more than 85,000 rides since rolling out last December.

“We have hit on something that is tremendously successful that is getting the ridership we’ve all been hoping for — at a fraction of the costs of traditional transportation like buses or light rail,” said Mayor Jeff Williams at a Nov. 27 council meeting.

It will cost $2.1 million to renew the contract for another year. The current service area covers about 30 percent of the city, which is roughly 170,000 residents and 62,000 jobs. That means a majority of the city still doesn’t have access to the service.

The city’s share of the costs is $995,000 with another $800,000 coming from federal transit administration funds. Another $300,000 will be generated from fares for using the service.

The service started a year ago by serving downtown Arlington, the University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Health Arlington Memorial and the entertainment district, which includes Six Flags Over Texas, AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park. Via also connects to the Trinity Railway Express Centreport/DFW Airport Station .

It later added areas north of Interstate 30 to Lamar Boulevard and south to Arkansas Lane in east Arlington. Later this year, it will expand east of Texas 360 between Arkansas Lane and Abram Street.

Via Rideshare Service Map 01-18-18
Via, the on-demand ride share company, has expanded service in Arlington. There are plans to expand the service to parts of south Arlington (shown in the lighter shade of blue) later this year. City of Arlington

It is also adding two Mercedes Metris vans to bring the total fleet to 15.

Via will also grow its number of drivers in independently owned vehicles (similar to Uber or Lyft) to keep passengers’ average waiting times below 12 minutes. Unlike those services, Via doesn’t pick come to your doorstep but instead directs riders to a location within walking distance.

When it was announced last year, some transportation experts viewed Via as micro rather than mass transit — something that could complement buses or light rail but not be the entire system.

Via works by using a smart phone application and dynamic routing to allow passengers to access a wide range of destinations within Arlington. It doesn’t stick to fixed routes or a fixed schedule.

Rides cost $3 per person per trip. Passengers can catch a ride from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays. Riders can also purchase a ViaPass for $15 per week and ride up to four times per day all week long. Via doesn’t run on Sundays.

At the same Nov. 27 meeting, City Manager Trey Yelverton said Arlington needs to be nimble to adjust to the rapidly changing transportation industry, noting the recent GM plant closure announcement that also showed a focus on self driving and electric vehicles.

“It just shows how all of this stuff is converging and how the future of transportation and investments in public infrastructure is just very different than even what it was a couple of years ago,” Yelverton said.

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Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.