People of color, those with lower incomes use Arlington's rideshare program the most, survey says
Employees with the city of Arlington and rideshare company Via say they have a better picture of transportation needs and trends after a year of offering citywide services.
Ridership for Arlington's primary transportation service more than tripled in the year since launching Via citywide, according to data presented to the City Council this week.
Via drivers provided around 426,000 rides to more than 31,000 people in its first year of citywide services, according to data.
Alicia Winkleblech, senior strategic initiatives officer, says waves of COVID-19 cases may have stunted those numbers.
"I think what you see is probably still not representative of what maybe the next 12 months of service might look like in terms of ridership," she said.
Around two-thirds of riders who responded to a survey about the citywide service were people of color. Around half of all respondents reported making less than $25,000 a year, and 77% said they do not own a car.
Dillon Twombly, Via's chief revenue officer, says the uptick in new riders tells "a really powerful story," especially after the COVID-19 pandemic devastated mass transit providers.
"Most cities and agencies are struggling to get riders back to their service and have plateaued at 60 to 70% of pre-COVID levels, whereas here, we had our best month yet in January with over 52,000 rides and are looking to beat that here again in March," Twombly said.
City council uses ridership trends to make adjustments to Via services. Council members approve contracts with Via annually. The flexibility has been a selling point for the subsidized rideshare program in a city where voters have rejected conventional mass transit funding proposals three times since 1980.
March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic in Texas, marked the only decline in Via ridership. Arlington saved around $1 million on transportation services by taking vans off the road, according to the city's website.
Council members peppered Winkelblech and Via executives about the future of the partnership, including future program funding and extending service hours.
Projected program costs for the next six years range from $9.5 million to $9.8 million. The city budgeted around $4.4 million for the program from its general fund for 2022, and the rest of the program costs are covered by federal funding, rideshare and advertising revenue and savings from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The city will exhaust its CARES Act savings allocation for Via at the end of 2022. Next service year, the city must fill a $93,421 gap in program funding through 2023 and a nearly $1 million gap per year starting in 2024 to keep funding the program.
Winkelblech told the council her office is keeping an eye out for grants to fill the gap, though grants would likely not cover more than a year.
"It wouldn't be something that would help us sustain it longer term," Winkelblech said.
The data also included cost estimates for extending Via service hours past 9 p.m. until midnight and running the service on Sundays.
District 8 council member Barbara Odom-Wesley says her constituents often ask about extended hours.
"They want it to run later and they want it to run on Sundays," Odom-Wesley said.
Council members also discussed reducing fare for participants in federal low-income programs in September. Members have not yet voted on reducing fare or extending hours.
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