Fasten Your Seatbelts: Arlington Launches First On-Demand Public Self-Driving Shuttle Service

The City of Arlington has partnered with Via, May Mobility, and UT Arlington to launch the RAPID pilot program, the first autonomous driving shuttle initiative to integrate with an existing public transportation service.

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The City of Arlington has partnered with Via, a leader in TransitTech; May Mobility, a leader in autonomous technology and fleet services; and UT Arlington to pioneer a self-driving shuttle service.

With its fleet of five autonomous vehicles, the RAPID (Rideshare, Automation, and Payment Integration Demonstration) pilot program is the first in the U.S. to integrate on-demand autonomous vehicles into an existing public transportation service.

The City of Arlington recognized the need for effective, efficient, and accessible transportation for all riders. Made possible by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the city decided to combine on-demand rideshare with autonomous technology to make local transportation as safe as possible. 

While the vehicles are self-driving, the program requires that a trained fleet attendant be present in the driver’s seat at all times to ensure smooth operations and customer service for riders. There’s even a wheelchair-accessible vehicle available.

Stakeholders recognized that downtown Arlington was the ideal place for launching a program of this kind. Though the area is only around one square mile, inside is an abundance of small and medium-sized businesses, locally owned restaurants, cultural destinations, and residential communities. Plus, UT Arlington sits along the southern edge.

As Maggie Campbell, president and CEO of Downtown Arlington Management Corporation, points out: This generates a “strong demand for hyper-local movement within our district, particularly during the day.”

“Downtown Arlington is the perfect place for demonstrating the proven technology and rider benefits of RAPID,” she said. “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.”

How it works

Available to riders through the Via app, RAPID can be booked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday for destinations within the service area. That includes favored spots such as the Downtown Library, City Hall, UTA, and numerous restaurants, offices, and businesses.

In the heart of downtown, the RAPID service area is bound 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 the area can book and pay for rides through the Via app or by calling Via’s customer service line.

Once a ride is booked, riders are given instructions to walk to a convenient pick up location to be taken to their destination. RAPID rides provide a partition between attendant and passenger areas, ensure vehicles are deep cleaned daily, limit the number of passengers per ride, and require all riders to wear a face mask. All efforts are to ensure the on-demand service with autonomous vehicle is successful. 

“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,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said in a statement. “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.

Meet the partners

Each partner focused on its expertise to bring to life a highly integrated—and autonomous—shared-ride system.

Via’s technology is responsible for booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience, and fleet management.

In 2017, we told you about how the City of Arlington voted to end its single bus route and replace it with the Via ridesharing service. It was the first city in the nation to convert its entire mass transit operation into what is now called micro-transit.

Last year, 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 rideshare service. Arlington RAPID was one of 25 projects in the country to get funding under that program.

READ NEXT Arlington Gets $1.7M to Integrate Autonomous Vehicles into Via Rideshare Program

“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,” Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via, said 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.”

In coordination with Via, May Mobility is providing a diverse assortment of vehicles, which includes four hybrid electric Lexus RX 450h vehicles that can carry up to three passengers and one Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle that can carry a wheelchair passenger.

“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,” Edwin Olson, co-founder and CEO of May Mobility, said in a statement. “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 University of Arlington’s participation in the pilot program allows its students to ride the RAPID service for free. Greg Hladik, UT Arlington director of parking and transportation, believes the program will greatly benefit students, as they are given yet another way to get around campus and safely enjoy downtown.

Researchers from UTA’s 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. Together, the team will assess and compare rider perceptions before, during, and after the RAPID project.

By examining potential gaps in existing and new services, the team will be able to recommend strategies to overcome potential challenges posed by AV systems, and ultimately remove adoption barriers for an enhanced ridership experience.

Although the program is currently concentrated on improving Arlington’s public transportation, all research and lessons learned from Arlington RAPID will be shared widely in efforts to help other communities throughout the nation seeking to combine rideshare and autonomous technologies.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

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