Via, the app-based ride-sharing service, is replacing bus services for an entire town in Texas, according to CBS This Morning. It’s 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 Via’s app to summon one of 10 commuter vans that will be operating primarily in the city’s 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 that’s coming on you’re 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 company’s 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.
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