Is it possible that the largest city in the country without mass transit can become a model for public transportation?
Arlington thinks it can, and it’s banking on technology to reverse its dubious place in transit history.
This is a city of 400,000 that has no bus system, no rail lines and has opted not to join the regional DART transportation system. It’s where residents have rejected spending sales tax dollars on mass transit three times since 1979.
Arlington voters clearly don’t want a bus system. What they’re testing instead is an Uber-like ride-share program introduced this week. With a smartphone app riders can summon a Mercedes van and join other passengers for a $3 ride to select locations in the city.
The city’s Alicia Winkelblech says the one-year Via Rideshare pilot project will only reach about one-third of Arlington residents by next summer. The service area is almost entirely south of Interstate 30, though it includes the CentrePort Station north of I-30 where passengers can connect to regional transportation. Winkelblech says Via is deemed successful it could be expanded.
Anything that provides mobility for a community without it is welcome. But expanding ride-share could arguably take years and still leave large portions of the community without service.
Michael Morris, the director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, says the ride-share program isn’t going to meet all of Arlington’s transit needs.
The vans, for example, only hold six passengers, so they can’t be used to transport large groups.
But Morris says Arlington is “onto something” with its willingness to test a variety of technologies for moving people and goods. He says the city is becoming a leader in developing next-generation transportation.
Driverless shuttles are operating in the city’s entertainment district transporting riders from parking lots to attractions like Six Flags Over Texas. Arlington is experimenting with apps that tell drivers when a light is turning red and how long they’ll have to stop.
The new technology doesn’t make up for years of leaving a city without viable transit.
Still, the ride-share pilot is a start. Arlington should step on it, spend what’s needed and accelerate the expansion of ride-sharing if the community is using it.