Arlington’s first opportunity to provide some form of public transportation for its rapidly expanding population came in 1980.
Voters didn’t favor the plan put before them that year. Two other elections proposing a variety of transit plans were held in years that followed but were summarily rejected as well.
The city was declared the largest in the country without a transit system to serve its residents or its growing number of visitors.
Critics would say that distinction should be seen as a positive characteristic of not burdening taxpayers with a cost for a service they believed was not needed.
City Council members evolving through annual election cycles, business and civic leaders, university officials together with their growing student population, and community activists across the city would see things differently.
Being in the center of one of the country’s most dynamic urban regions and watching transit systems of cities all around expanding their services, advocates would continue to seek a way to become a vital part of it all.
With the numbers of visitors arriving in the city’s entertainment and sports complex expanding exponentially every year, there has been a growing interest in finding some way to accommodate those crowds getting into, around and out of the city.
The most recent initiative was launched a year ago with the formation by the City Council of a Transportation Advisory Committee consisting of 31 residents holding a diversity of opinions of what, if anything, should be the next steps in Arlington’s longest unmet public need.
The report of their deliberations, findings and conclusions was delivered in September, and now the implementation of a key recommendation has been launched.
Not unexpectedly, the news has been met by the city’s naysayers with the same kind of criticism they expressed when the committee was formed — they didn’t like the assembly of residents to hold discussions about any solution requiring public funding.
In its place a more comprehensive ride share program is now underway. Residents have the opportunity to be picked up by Via, the company the city has contracted with for the service, after contacting them through a free app on their smartphone or by dialing them up on their home phone.
For $3 passengers can get one of six seats on one of the company’s 10 black Mercedes-Benz vans and direct the driver to their destination.
The service is beginning in the entertainment district and will expand in the months to come ranging through the center of the city between Interstates 20 and 30.
With no fixed schedules, no fixed routes, and an infinite number of on-demand stops, the service seems to offer the kind of flexibility designed to meet residents’ needs. Such a plan is a direct answer to those opposed to what they see as the main problem with traditional buses “running around empty.”
Nevertheless, a quick check of Facebook postings by that naysayer group will reveal no tolerance whatsoever for this innovation in the longstanding public transit debate.
In addition to vitriol about the service being declared a failure before it began, there are the usual accusations of imaginary corruption among the city’s elected officials, and plans to remove them all from office for venturing into a new way to help people get around the city.
Via operates in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D. C., providing over a million rides per month and is growing rapidly.
Among the dozen guiding principles of the Transportation Advisory Committee is one to offer flexible, adaptable solutions. The Via program seems to be right on target for that very outcome.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.