ARLINGTON, Texas -- Right now, one of the most interesting public transit experiments in the world is happening in a place that is famously transit-averse.
For years, Arlington was known as the largest city in the country without mass transit, but for the last six months, they've been trying something new. Their transit system is built not with traditional city buses or subways but with technology that is similar to Uber.
"We are on the forefront of testing a new transportation solution, and so far, it's working," said Alicia Winkelblech, Assistant Director of Strategic Planning for the City of Arlington. "The city is using the rideshare service as our sole means of public transportation."
The city partnered with a company called Via that operates ridesharing in other major cities. There is a fleet of ten Mercedes vans that are used exclusively for the service. For a flat $3 fare, they will pick up passengers and drop them off anywhere within an area of central Arlington. Rides are shared with up to 6 passengers at a time.
Six months in, Arlington says Via has completed more than 28,000 rides. Some 4,600 passengers have signed up for the app, and city officials say that the data shared by the company is giving real insight into how Via is being used.
"About 64 percent of our rides have been starting or ending in the University of Texas at Arlington area," said Winkelblech.
In addition to UT Arlington, other hot spots include the CentrePort station that connects to the TRE commuter rail and also Walmart near AT&T Stadium.
As with most public transit systems, the fare does not cover operating costs. Winkleblech said they have calculated a cost of approximately $7 per trip per person, if the service has 400 riders every day. She said they are encouraged by the early data. The service has more slightly more passengers than the old Max bus service, a single traditional bus line that Via replaced. And they expect ridership to grow even more this summer, when they expand the coverage area south to I-20 to include the Parks Mall.
"The city is really pleased," said Winkleblech. "The service is doing really well so far."