Ride-sharing services pose a threat to the viability of public transportation systems, but one Texas town doesn’t seem to mind, becoming the latest city in the U.S. to ditch its bus service for an Uber-like setup.
The City of Arlington, Texas, announced last week that it’s replacing its bus service for a company called Via, which operates a ride-sharing operation that sounds a lot like a bus. No, really.
Here’s how Via, launched in 2013, describes itself:
Via is an on-demand transit system that takes multiple passengers heading in the same direction and books them into a shared vehicle. Think of Via as a bus that’s smart enough to come when you want it and where you want it.
In a world where public transportation is properly funded, here’s what a bus could do:
[A bus] is an on-demand [at very specific but frequent times] transit system that takes multiple passengers heading in the same direction and books them into a shared vehicle. Think of [a bus] as a bus that’s smart enough to come when you want it [depending on the schedule with frequently running vehicles]and where you want it.
As part of the deal, Arlington will subsidize fares that’ll run $3 per ride, or $10 for a weekly pass, reports The Verge, which picked up on the story following a CBS News report from last week. Via’s replacing charter buses operated by the city with six-passenger Mercedes-Benz vans.
City officials believe the switch will save Arlington money in the long run. Here’s more from the city’s press release:
The City of Arlington will contribute approximately one third of the project cost, in the amount of $322,500, with the remainder coming from the Federal Transit Administration. The contract period is for one-year, with four one-year renewal options. Data collected through the rideshare service will help shape the City Council’s future transportation planning decisions.
A few cities in the U.S. have previously arranged similar deals, but this appears to be the first for Via. And it comes at a time that Uber and Lyft are vigorously pushing its services that perform tasks similar to Via—pooling riders who’re traveling in the same direction into the same vehicle, with the aim of offering cheaper prices. Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, indicated recently that he’d like to see the company be utilized in some places entirely as a public transit service.
For Arlington residents, those without the app can call Via at 817-784-7382 to book a ride. It’s unclear how many vehicles the company will deploy for the service, but the city suggests there’s some flexibility on what areas they’ll operate in.
It’s too early to tell what sort of impact these services will have on public transit options en masse, but growing up in the Detroit area, it became quickly obvious how terrible public transit can be if you allow cities to opt out of participating in regional transportation bus services. It ends up a disaster.