Officials from The University of Texas at Arlington and the city of Arlington were among the first to ride in a unique, on-demand, self-driving shuttle service known as RAPID, which will provide free rides to UTA students for the next year.
The city is operating RAPID (Rideshare, Automation, and Payment Integration Demonstration) in partnership with the University, Via Rideshare and May Mobility, a leader in autonomous technology and fleet services, through a grant provided by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
UT Arlington Interim President Teik C. Lim congratulates all the partners involved with the revolutionary project. “I am certainly very proud of UTA’s role in this program, which combines autonomous vehicles with mobility-on-demand technology to provide an urban public transit alternative,” Lim says. “UT Arlington’s participation in the development and launch of this pilot program with the city of Arlington is especially gratifying because our students are the focus of all that we do, and RAPID benefits students significantly by providing free rides in the downtown area.”
He says that with about 10,000 students normally residing on or near campus, RAPID will be a key supplement to the University’s existing transportation solutions: “Combining RAPID with our campus shuttle system, an on-demand safe-ride program, and off-campus Via rides will make our University transportation capabilities more effective, efficient and accessible – and, of course, safer for our students.”
A fleet of five self-driving vehicles, including one that is wheelchair-accessible, 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, UT Arlington and numerous restaurants, offices and businesses in the downtown area. 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 RAPID service area runs from 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 for the general public. UTA students can ride for free.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams says the city has developed a reputation around the country as one of the most innovative cities for “exploring technology-based mobility solutions and the testing of autonomous vehicles.”
“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,” Williams says.
Via’s technology will manage booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience, and fleet management in coordination with May Mobility’s expertise in autonomous vehicle technology.
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.
Via and RAPID riders are required to wear face masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, per FTA orders. A number of health safety features are present in the RAPID vehicles, including a partition between the attendant and passenger areas.