Texas city ditches buses for Via ride-hailing service

Arlington, Texas is trading public buses for ride-sharing. After introducing commuter buses in 2013, the city is replacing them with a new partnership with app-based ride-hailing company Via, which will operate 10 vans to shuttle residents. It's the first U.S. city to experiment with this kind of venture.

"The commuter bus didn't apply to me at all, because it didn't take me where I needed to go," Bill O'Toole said. Since January, O'Toole left his car at home and commuted with Via, summoning the van from his phone for a flat fee of $3 a ride or a weekly pass for $10. The city partially subsidizes the fees.

CBS News

"Stress at work has been alleviated, and it's probably just the fact that I'm not starting stressed," O'Toole said, adding, "I really hate driving."

Getting around Arlington without a car is not easy. It's a sprawling community of 99-square miles and sits 12 miles from Fort Worth and 20 miles from Dallas. But Arlington residents have repeatedly voted against spending money to build a mass transit system. When the bus line was scrapped, ridership had fallen to as little as 100 people a day on its single route through downtown.   

"Do you see buses and rail as passé, as outdated technology?" CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave asked.

"Absolutely. I think that with the new technology that's coming on, you're gonna see very little light rail built because this is so much cheaper," Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said. "Its pilot program. You know, if it didn't work, well, we can go onto something else. And it's a fraction of spending $50 million a mile for light rail."

Arlington residents are taking to the virtual buses. In its first month, Via provided more than 5,000 rides at a 97 percent customer approval rating.

"We're going to pick you up within a block or two of where you want to get picked up. We're not going to pick you up at a few fixed pickup locations within the city," said Alex Lavoie, U.S. general manager for Via. "It's quite a convenient solution and we think for that reason, people will really enjoy it and so far they really have been."

The city is planning on expanding the program to cover 120,000 of its residents by this summer, and if they are filling up the Via vans, they look to go city wide in the next couple of years.