March 23, 2021 (ARLINGTON) -- Via Arlington customers can now select to be picked up in a self-driving vehicle for trips around Downtown and The University of Texas at Arlington.
The Arlington RAPID pilot program, available to riders through the Via app, is the first in the United States to integrate on-demand autonomous vehicles into an existing public transportation service. A fleet of five self- driving vehicles, including a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, is available to book from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday for destinations within the RAPID service area, which includes the Downtown Library, City Hall, UTA and numerous restaurants, offices, and businesses. The City of Arlington is operating RAPID (Rideshare, Automation, and Payment Integration Demonstration) in partnership with Via, the leader in TransitTech, May Mobility, a leader in autonomous technology and fleet services, and UT Arlington through a grant provided by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
The goal of the Arlington RAPID project is to provide a blueprint for combining on-demand rideshare and autonomous technologies to develop effective, efficient, safe, and accessible transportation for all riders. In addition to improving public transportation options in Arlington, lessons learned from Arlington RAPID will be shared widely to help other communities throughout the nation seeking to combine rideshare and autonomous technologies.
“Arlington has developed a reputation around the country as one of the most innovative cities exploring technology-based mobility solutions and the testing of autonomous vehicles,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams. “We’re excited to take the next step in this process with our partners May Mobility, Via and UT Arlington, as we explore the latest self-driving vehicle technology on our roads in the Downtown area.”
Via’s technology will power booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience, and fleet management, in coordination with May Mobility’s expertise in autonomous vehicle technology. The result will be a highly integrated, and autonomous, shared-ride system.
“The City of Arlington continues to be at the forefront of transit innovation, building on the launch of one of the nation’s first microtransit 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. “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.”
May Mobility is providing the fleet of five autonomous vehicles, which comprises four hybrid electric Lexus RX 450h vehicles that can carry up to three passengers and one Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle that can carry one wheelchair passenger. While the vehicles are self-driving, a trained Fleet Attendant will be in the driver’s seat at all times to ensure safe operations and to provide customer service for riders.
“The Arlington RAPID program is important for May Mobility as we evolve our service with a more flexible and convenient on-demand option powered by Via on our Lexus RX 450h vehicles,” said Edwin Olson, co-founder and CEO of May Mobility. “We are proud to partner with the City of Arlington, who is leading the way in new mobility solutions. This opportunity will play a crucial role in advancing our technology development and our overall mission to transform cities with safe, clean, and accessible self-driving shuttles.”
The RAPID service area is generally bounded by Division Street to the north, Mary Street to the east, Mitchell Street to the south, and Davis Drive to the west. Riders traveling to and from destinations in this service area can book and pay for rides through the Via app or by calling Via’s customer service line at 817-784-7382. Via’s standard fares apply to rides taken on RAPID by the general public. Because of UTA’s participation in the pilot program, UTA students can ride the RAPID service for free.
Greg Hladik, UT Arlington director of parking and transportation, said the autonomous vehicles offer students another mode of transportation to get around campus and downtown Arlington. “This is an exciting program for the University and we will add it to the menu of transportation options that our students enjoy,” Hladik said. “I’m sure it will be a popular option among students who have embraced these new modes of transportation in the past. We look forward to working with the city, Via and May Mobility in this new transportation endeavor.”
Researchers from the College of Engineering, College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs and the Center for Transportation Equity, Decisions, and Dollars are also contributing to the project. According to Sharareh Kermanshachi, Principal Investigator for the research team, “The research is focused on assessing and comparing rider perceptions before, during and after the RAPID project to examine potential gaps in existing and new services, recommend strategies to overcome potential challenges of the AV system, and remove adoption barriers for an enhanced ridership experience.”
Once a ride is booked, riders will be given instructions to walk up to one or two blocks from their location to a convenient pick up location, providing truly on-demand service with autonomous vehicles when and where riders wish to travel.
“Downtown Arlington is the perfect place for demonstrating the proven technology and rider benefits of RAPID,” said Maggie Campbell, President and CEO of Downtown Arlington Management Corporation. “Downtown Arlington measures only about one square mile but has an abundance of small and medium-sized businesses, popular locally-owned restaurants, cultural destinations, residential communities, plus UT Arlington along the southern edge. All these assets generate strong demand for hyper-local movement within our district,
particularly during the day. Commuters and locals alike want on-demand mobility to go to lunch, host meetings at different venues, grab coffee, or meet friends after work. They also want to park and re-park as little as possible, and they are savvy users of on-demand and rideshare technology. Downtown Arlington is ready to take RAPID for a ride!”
Via and RAPID riders are required to wear face masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, per Federal Transit Administration orders. A number of health safety features are present in the RAPID vehicles, including a partition between the Attendant and passenger areas, daily deep cleaning, and mask requirements consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FTA regulations. The number of passengers in the vehicles at one time can also be limited to allow social distancing, consistent with the current approach on the City’s Via service.
As part of its ongoing efforts to Enhance Regional Mobility and Put Technology to Work, Arlington has already managed two successful autonomous vehicle deployments. The Milo off-street pilot program with EasyMile was conducted from August 2017 to August 2018 and the on-street pilot program with drive.ai vehicles was conducted from October 2018 to May 2019.
In 2020, the City of Arlington was awarded a $1.7 million grant through the Federal Transit Administration’s Integrated Mobility Innovation Program to integrate autonomous vehicles into the Via on-demand rideshare service. Arlington RAPID was one of 25 projects in the country to receive funding under the program, which supports projects that use innovative technologies and processes to improve access to public transportation, increase public transportation efficiency, and enhance the overall rider experience.
Click here to learn more about Arlington RAPID.