Via, the app-based ride-sharing service, is replacing bus services for an entire town in Texas, according to CBS This Morning. Its the latest evidence of US cities forgoing investments in public transportation in favor of partnerships with privately held technology startups. Under the deal, residents of Arlington, Texas, who own a smartphone can use Vias app to summon one of 10 commuter vans that will be operating primarily in the citys downtown area. Fares will only be $3 a ride, or $10 for a weekly pass, thanks to direct subsidies from the city. Via will replace a fleet of charter buses that had been operating in Arlington for four years. Asked by CBS if he sees buses and light rail as passé, Arlington mayor Jeff Williams said, Absolutely. I think with the new technology thats coming on youre going to see very little light rail built because this is so much cheaper. How much cheaper? The city says it 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. Via agrees to supply the city with data collected through the ride-share service to shape future transportation planning decisions. CBS incorrectly called Arlington the first US city to experiment with this kind of venture. In fact, there are more than a handful of cities that have struck very similar deals. In Summit, New Jersey, Uber gets money directly from the town to offer extremely cheap rides to commuters traveling to and from the local train station. Other towns, like Altamonte Springs, Florida, have gone a step further, totally replacing public transportation with subsidized Uber rides. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi recently expressed interest in expanding his companys reach into public transportation. Via first launched in New York City in September 2013 as one of the first app-based services centered around carpooling. The company now operates in Chicago and Washington, DC as well. Via, which also licenses its on-demand transit technology to transportation operators globally, just announced a $250 million round of fundraising led by Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler.
A Via van is your only public transportation option in Arlington. Ridesharing companies often dream of changing the face of public transportation, but one of them is going a step further -- it's becoming the only option for public transportation in one community. Arlington, Texas is replacing its bus service with Via's ridesharing platform. Pay $3 per trip ($10 for a weekly pass) and you can hop in a Mercedes van that will take you where you need to go, whether your hail it through a smartphone app or a phone call. Service will initially focus on Arlington's downtown core and key areas like the entertainment districts, hospital and a connection to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, but it should cover a "large portion" of the city between I-30 and I-20 as of the summer. The vans operate from 7AM to 9PM on weekdays, and 9AM to 9PM on Saturdays. The low fares are possible thanks to subsidies from the city, which is providing about a third of the overall project's cost (about $322,500). The Federal Transit Administration is supplying the rest. Whether or not it lasts for a while depends on the initial experience. The city's initial contract runs for just one year, and it'll use data gathered from Via's service to influence its decisions. A transition to ridesharing is possible in part because Arlington's existing mass transit options weren't that great. As The Verge pointed out, the city had been relying on charter buses for 4 years. It would be much harder to rely on ridesharing in cities with well-established mass transit systems, especially in larger cities where you'd need a massive fleet and around-the-clock service to provide adequate coverage. And this isn't necessarily the first such experiment, as Altamonte Springs, Florida replaced its public transportation with subsidized Uber rides. This is arguably one of the larger experiments of its kind, however, and it hints at the potential future of ridesharing: it could become the go-to option for public transportation in cities that can't afford or justify extensive bus or subway routes. It could be particularly important if and when self-driving ridesharing cars hit the mainstream, as ridesharing cars could operate at all hours and take on routes that might be impractical for human drivers.