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Arlington, Texas, Launches Autonomous Transit Vehicle Pilot

The city has kicked off an innovative pilot that uses autonomous vehicles to provide on-demand transit services. The project, which has been named RAPID, involves several partners.

Arlington Via AV
Arlington, Texas has begun an innovative pilot that uses autonomous vehicles to provide on-demand transit services.
Submitted Photo/ Via
An on-demand autonomous transit program in Texas could mark the start of a transportation movement across the country.

Riders in Arlington, Texas, can now book and board an autonomous shuttle for trips around downtown and the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington. The pilot program, known as RAPID (Rideshare, Automation and Payment Integration Demonstration), is a partnership between the city, UT Arlington, transit provider Via and May Mobility, a maker of autonomous technology and fleet services.

Five autonomous vehicles with on-board attendants will provide the service. Riders can book rides with the Via app. Due to COVID-19 related limitations, the trips will accommodate up to two passengers.

Via is an industry leader in on-demand transit, partnering with numerous agencies across the country to provide service in areas where the operational efficiencies of on-demand micro-transit have discouraged the use of scheduled buses. In Arlington, a city of 400,000 located between Dallas and Fort Worth, Via provides all transit services with some 70 shuttles. Via allows riders to book a door-to-door ride through the company’s app, much like they might arrange a ride with Uber or Lyft.

The vision, say Via officials, is to expand the idea of autonomous shuttles to other markets as transit emerges from its COVID-19 winter and explores new opportunities to serve riders and their changing transit needs.

Over the last year, Via has worked with cities “to enable a transformative recovery, if you will, for public mobility, in the midst of the response to the pandemic,” said Chris Snyder, Europe CEO and senior vice president of expansion at Via, in comments during a recent panel discussion arranged by CoMotion LIVE.

“We have to really come up with a transit ecology that reflects the new normal, going into a post-COVID world,” said Gerry Tierney, associate principal and co-director of the Mobility Lab at Perkins+Will, an urban design firm in San Francisco.

“What we were doing in 2019 and what we’ll be doing in 2022, I think, are going to be two different worlds,” Tierney added, in comments at the Urbanism Next conference last week. “I think we need a more nuanced approach to what the transit service is going to be. It’s not all going to be 40-seater buses. It’s not all going to be light rail or heavy rail. I think we have to look at the other mobility options.”

Other shared autonomous shuttle projects have launched in other cities, generally following a set route covering about a mile or two. Like the pilot in Arlington, these demonstration projects aim to not only fine-tune the technology but also introduce it to residents. The project in Arlington is seen as the first in the country to marry the type of on-demand transit that Via offers with autonomous vehicles.

“The city of Arlington continues to be at the forefront of transit innovation, building on the launch of one of the nation’s first micro-transit systems with a self-driving vehicle platform that is fully integrated into the public transit network,” said Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via, in a statement. “We are proud to expand Via’s long-term relationship with the City as we offer residents an exciting new way to use public transportation.”

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.