Fort Worth

Driverless vehicles in Fort Worth? It's possible as Tarrant County looks to innovation

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Self-driving, fully autonomous transit vehicle on tour in Arlington providing preview of new technology from Alliance for Transportation Innovation
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Self-driving, fully autonomous transit vehicle on tour in Arlington providing preview of new technology from Alliance for Transportation Innovation

Tarrant County is emerging as a hotbed for transportation innovation as new on-demand rideshare and autonomous vehicle businesses clamor to test their programs here.

Right now, Fort Worth is looking into a pilot driverless vehicle program to operate on a 20-block grid on the Near Southside.

And a similar style shuttle program could be in the works for the Alliance corridor in far north Fort Worth, a partnership of Trinity Metro, the Denton County Transit Authority and Alliance developer Hillwood, to help workers with the first and last mile of their trek to work.

"It's a steady stream," said Russell Schaffner, Tarrant County's mobility coordinator. "There's an incredible amount of new technology innovations within transportation. We are getting solicitations regarding anything from in-car payment parking platforms to car sharing apps."

One car maker wants to pilot a shared-vehicle program whereby the company insures the car for an owner who would sell blocks of time for someone else to use, he said.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told a gathering of the county's mayors Monday night that the city is looking into some programs that could quickly bring some of that innovation here. One program is Via, the on-demand van service currently running a pilot in Arlington.

The $3-a-ride program has attracted about 14,000 passengers since it began in January, said Arlington Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon.

“Innovative solutions...will be the piece we have to pull together," Price said. "As major cities downsize...they’re not buying buses right now; they’re looking at innovative ways to deliver.”

The mayors met to approve a resolution asking the North Texas Council of Governments for their help determining how they can break barriers of programs that are now confined by city limits to create a countywide seamless transit system.

There was no timetable given for when the study could be completed. Tarrant County is comprised of 41 municipalities.

The implementation study would consider the new technologies, finding the right-size services for communities, leveraging existing services, such as Fort Worth Trinity Metro bus service, and ways to pay for it, among other things.

"We're so disconnected," said North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino. "It seems every day a new project, new technology that comes out that shifts the paradigm. We have an opportunity as a greater Tarrant County community to capitalize on these changes, these opportunities.”

Trevino cited San Antonio's recent approach to the Texas Department of Transportation suggesting a designated highway lane for autonomous vehicles.

Said Price, "Innovation is moving at us at a much faster pace than we can keep up with.”

Sandra Baker: 817-390-7727, @SandraBakerFWST