Arlington City Council chose to bring a new rideshare service in lieu of renewing the Metro Arlington Xpress contract.
The new service is called Via and will begin its first phase Dec. 11. The MAX bus will run through the end of December before the contract ends.
Via was recommended by the Transportation Advisory Committee, comprising 31 residents and stakeholders.
VIA rideshare service
The service will operate in Arlington, expanding in three phases. The first phase will cover downtown Arlington, the Entertainment District, the Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital and the CentrePort and DFW International Airport Trinity Railway Express station.
Phase two will launch in January, and coverage will include the UTA campus. Phase three will occur sometime mid-2018.
The contract costs $922,500 and includes a fleet of 10 Mercedes-Benz Metris vans. Arlington will pay $322,500, and the Federal Transit Administration will supply the rest.
The service is subsidized by the city, with each ride costing users a $3 flat rate. Vouchers may be bought with cash instead of credit card, and vans may be hailed by either using a smartphone application or dialing a number, Arlington principal planner Ann Foss said. These options have been included to increase accessibility for people without a debit or credit card or who do not own a smartphone.
The Via service will run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. This is an improvement over the MAX bus, which only runs during the week, transportation expert David Weinreich said.
He hopes the new Via rideshare service will be successful but fears the rideshare model will make the service less reliable than a route-based system.
The service will need to be reliable and timely to adequately fulfill the need for transportation, he said.
MAX bus system
The bus system began as a pilot program in 2013 after the City Council initiated an agreement with Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Fort Worth Transportation Authority. Ridership peaked in September 2014 but has declined since, according to city documents.
Weinreich moved to Arlington despite the lack of transportation options, because at least the Metro Arlington Xpress would be available.
Weinreich has epilepsy, which prevents him from driving a car, so he must rely on other methods to get around.
He rented an apartment next to a bus stop less than a year ago, but now it’s being canceled.
Council member Charlie Parker was in favor of getting rid of the MAX bus.
“I was one that was not impressed by the ridership numbers, and I was ready to get rid of it,” Parker said.
Weinreich said he only used the bus a few times a month because of its limited scope and hours.
“It’s not very reliable, but it’s all I have,” Weinreich said. “It’s a psychological commitment, as well, just knowing it’s there is important to me, that if I need to go to Dallas, I can.”
UTA transportation needs
Weinreich moved for his job as a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Transportation, Equity, Decisions and Dollars, where he walks or bikes to work every day. It’s about 15 minutes to campus, but he said it’s hard for him to get anywhere else in the city.
“I think it is ironic that we have one of the country’s top transportation policy centers located in a place where they have no transportation,” he said.
But he thinks the center is in a good position to make a difference in the city.
Foss said there is absolutely a possibility the city will collaborate with the center in the future.
“There is a strong link between transportation accessibility and people’s quality of life,” center director Shima Hamidi said. “The economy, people’s health and life expectancy are all affected by availability of transportation.”
Tahereh Granpayehvaghei, urban planning doctoral student, said many international students do not own vehicles and came to UTA without realizing how car-dependent the area is.
“A lot of the international students, when we talk, we all feel trapped on campus,” Granpayehvaghei said.
Many of them live on campus and have limited opportunities to do activities outside of it, she said.
Hamidi said downtown Arlington is very close to campus, but there is no connection other than roads. There is no easy way to get there without driving, she said.
The lack of infrastructure isolates the university from the other parts of Arlington, she said.
“It’s not good for study or mental health,” said Qian He, urban planning doctoral student.
She doesn’t have a car and it’s hard for her to find things to do, she said. In her experience, transit increases social ties and community involvement.
Weinreich drove for about 18 years before his condition required him to stop. Before then, he never realized how prevalent transportation problems are.
There is an invisible population of people who do not drive and are unacknowledged by the community, Weinreich said.
“If you’re driving, you only notice other cars,” he said.
– Colby Farr contributed to this article.