Arlington is known for many things, among them the fact that we’re the largest city in America that does not own a conventional, public bus system.
Back in 2013, this title changed for a short time when the City of Arlington decided to introduce a bus line called MAX, or Metro Arlington Xpress. The public line was shut down a few years later due to the small number of people actually using it.
But now, the City is experimenting with two new solutions that might solve the public transportation problem in Arlington in a way never imagined before.
Last year, the City signed a contract with Via after shutting down MAX. Via is a service similar to Uber or Lyft, but with a few differences that the insurance underwriters were happy to note. But in similarities, there is an app the customers can use to call a Via shuttle to come to pick them up. But then, the algorithms owned by Via assemble specific routes by grouping people who are traveling in the same direction. The vehicle service often asks the passengers to walk to a nearby access point so the shuttle can pick up all the passengers along the calculated route in the shortest period. And, thanks to the shared ride, the fares that riders pay are usually around 3-5$ per ride.
Right now, Via is hardly known in the city; a lot of the people haven’t even heard of it. Moreover, the service area where Via operates for the time being is limited. It includes the Arlington stadiums, Six Flags, the University of Texas, City Hall, and at least three high schools. The City is planning to broaden the service area in the future.
For now, this service is being heavily subsidized, and that’s where the City’s second transportation solution comes in.
Autonomous cars have the potential to lower the costs of Via due to eliminating the cost of drivers’ salaries. That’s why Arlington is experimenting with Drive.ai. With this exciting new decision, the city of Arlington became the first city of Texas that included self-driving transportation in its public transit plan.
“Drive.ai looks forward to the opportunity to bring our innovative self-driving technology to the City of Arlington. This forward-thinking, bustling city has unique transportation needs, and we plan to provide a last-mile transit solution within a vibrant entertainment district. Together with the city, we aim to reshape the way people experience transportation in Arlington, Texas,” said Conway Chen, vice president of business strategy at Drive.ai.
The vehicles will drive among operator vehicles at pre-determined routes with speeds that go up to 35 miles per hour. At first, safety drivers will sit in the Drive.ai vehicles as a precaution during a trial period. This program will be used to increase the mobility of residents and to help visitors getting to destinations in the city.
These three Drive.ai vehicles cost the City $434,952, and if all is good with the pilot, the City is planning to raise that number to five vehicles.
However, this is not the first time Arlington has tried autonomous transportation. Last year, the City offered the first self-driving shuttle pilot program called Milo. It was operating safely, but now the funding for the program has transitioned into the new Drive.ai launch.