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Arlington, Texas, Expands On-Demand Micro-Transit Citywide

The city of around 400,000 residents in the Dallas metropolitan region will expand its partnership with Via to provide on-demand transit shuttles across its 99 square miles.

The Via logo on the side of an on-demand transit vehicle.
On-demand, ride-hailing transit services are no longer just for short journeys in a designated service area. One Texas city is expanding its door-to-door offerings citywide.

Arlington, a city of 400,000 residents squarely between Dallas and Fort Worth, will soon expand an existing on-demand transit service to become perhaps the first in the nation relying on a transit service that uses no fixed routes or large buses like most cities.

The city will be served by about 70 shared shuttle-like vehicles — provided by Via — which will operate similar to a single-passenger ride-hailing service.

“This works in low-density regions. And it also is cost-effective enough that smaller cities can afford it, and it works,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams.

In 2017, the city entered into an agreement with Via to provide on-demand transit across a small designated area. Last year the service area was expanded, covering about 65 percent of the city’s 99 square miles. Under a new agreement, Via will serve the entire city, providing rides for rates ranging from $3 to $5 per person, depending on the distance of the trip. The move to an on-demand provider came after voters in 2017 rejected a sales tax increase to fund the city’s bus service. The deal with Via will cost about $9 million a year, said Williams.

Since the switch to Via, an app-based ride-hailing service that picks up riders from within about two blocks of their location, ridership has increased tenfold, according to the mayor.

“Our ridership has been great. Our customer satisfaction has been super. The convenience of not having to worry about either, how do you get to the bus station, or when you get off the bus, how do you get to where you want to go, it’s just been off the charts,” he added.

Williams believes traffic congestion has also been reduced “slightly.”

“But now that we’re going citywide I think we will really see it,” he added.

Micro-transit is a growing trend across a number of U.S. cities, regardless of size. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (L.A. Metro) recently launched Metro Micro as a companion to its bus, rail and bike travel options. Metro Micro, a public-private partnership between L.A. Metro and RideCo, serves two zones, with plans to expand to other zones this year.

As of 2018, some 22 public transit agencies were using, or planned to use, micro-transit services or technologies, according to a new report by the Transportation Research Board titled The Role of Transit, Shared Modes, and Public Policy in the New Mobility Landscape.

Part of the attraction is the flexibility of micro-transit, said Dillon Twombly, chief revenue officer at Via. In some cases the company provides the technology to support a transit agency’s own micro-transit system, while in other cases Via can provide a full service, including vehicles and staffing.

“This gives us the flexibility to meet the partners’ needs. And so we’re coming in really as a true partner to the city and [enabling] the service in a way that fits them,” said Twombly.

Via can quickly and easily modify service zones, times of service and pricing.

“One of the key factors that has led to our growth, not only last year but before, is the flexibility that it provides. During COVID, we modified or launched almost 60 services,” said Twombly.

“I think a lot of cities and transit agencies have really embraced technology,” he added. “Obviously, COVID is not a good thing for anyone, but I think a lot of the change, and kind of the adoption of technology, has increased over this period because cities and agencies have needed more flexibility.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.