With a couple of quick taps on a smartphone, most Arlington residents can now catch a ride on Via, a ride-share program that officials are hoping will at least provide a partial answer to the city’s transportation needs.
Via Rideshare started Monday with a fleet of 10 sleek, black Mercedes Benz vans that can each hold up to six passengers.
While the program is conceptually connected to transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft, Via is different in that passengers are sharing the rides with others. The tradeoff in the lack of privacy means a far cheaper price. It could also mean walking a block or two to be picked up or dropped off rather than curbside service.
Rides will cost $3 one way, though there is a promotion for the first week that drops that price to $2.25 one way.
Initially, it will have a small footprint in the entertainment district, including Six Flags Over Texas, Globe Life Park, AT&T Stadium, downtown Arlington and the University of Texas at Arlington. It will also take passengers to the CentrePort/DFW Airport Trinity Railway Express station.
The service area will expand over the next several months to eventually include the Parks Mall and Arlington Highlands by summer.
The program will not serve Arlington residents who live north of Interstate 30.
Via will replace the bus service, MAX, which runs from central Arlington to TRE stop CentrePort in east Fort Worth. The bus service will end service Dec. 31.
Ridership on Max has been dropping. In May, there was an average of 220 rides per day, down from 235 in May 2016, according to the city. In April, there were 242 average rides per day, down from 299 in April 2016.
With a population of 400,000, Arlington is generally known as the largest city in the U.S. without a comprehensive public transportation system.
While city officials view Via as a step forward, they aren’t putting a target on the number of riders they want to see.
“We aren’t putting out any ride projections for Via because we haven’t launched this type of service before,” said Alicia Winkelblech, Arlington’s assistant director of strategic planning.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said Via won’t solve all of the city’s transportation needs but it could play a vital role in its future. A ride-share program was one of the key recommendations from the city’s transportation advisory committee.
“We hope this is going to be one of the components,” Williams said. “It’s overwhelmingly endorsed by our transportation advisory committee so we are trying it as a pilot project. If it works I could see it being one of the components of our overall transportation plan. If it doesn't work, we'll move on to some other technology that may not have even been invented yet.”
The cost for the one-year pilot project is $922,500 with $600,000 being paid through a Federal Transit Administration grant. The city is paying $322,500.
A ‘transit desert’
Diane Jones Allen, the director of landscape architecture in University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs, describes Arlington as a “transit desert.”
“In light of the fact that there is no transportation in Arlington with the bus service going away, there really does need to be some kind of public system,” Allen said. “This ride share system, this van system will offer something since Arlington is a transit desert.
“But this type of ride share program works better in places that have existing transit so it can provide a link to a larger transportation system.”
Jones recently wrote about transit deserts in a case study called “Lost in the Transit Desert: Race, Transit Access, and Suburban Form.”
Through Arlington was built on the old suburban, car-dependent model, Allen said many residents need some form of public transportation.
“Maybe this nontraditional way gets people to realize mass transit is a need, even people who have never voted for it or those people in power,” Allen said.
Via currently serves New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. It has had more than 21 million rides since launching in 2013.
It also has a pilot project with Capital Metro in Austin.
How it works
To get a ride with Via you’ll need an app, which is available for iPhone ( App Store) and Android (Google Play) devices.
The four rules for riding in a Via van:
- Be ready and waiting;
- Avoid phone calls;
- Don’t eat or drink;
- and be considerate.
Hours of operation will be 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday.
The service will not operate Sunday.
Customers can call or text 817-784-7382 if they have questions or need support from Via.