Case Study – On-Demand Autonomous Vehicle Public Transport Service in Arlington Completes One Year of Operations

Recorded by:

Written by:

With grant funding from the Federal Transit Administration, the City of Arlington partnered with Via Transportation and May Mobility in March 2021 to start the RAPID (Rideshare, Automation, and Payment Integration Demonstration) program to offer autonomous vehicle rides in downtown Arlington and on the University of Texas at Arlington campus.

The RAPID fleet includes four hybrid Lexus vehicles and one electric Polaris GEM vehicle with wheelchair capabilities. A rider can summon a vehicle, which currently operates with a safety driver at up to 25 mph, between 12 pm and 6 pm through Via’s app. The rides follow Via Transportation’s standard pricing scheme with university students receiving a USD 1 discount. In the first year of operation, the RAPID fleet executed roughly 28,000 rides.

Use Case and Business Impact

RAPID was started with the goal of investigating the potential of integrating autonomous driving technology into on-demand public transit. So far, more than 60% of the trips have been to essential locations such as medical facilities, school, or work, which the project organization claims is an indicator of RAPID’s success in fulfilling critical transportation legs. RAPID’s coverage area includes 18 miles of mapped downtown streets in which the vehicles reported a 99% on-time performance and drove autonomously 80% of the time. As a result, the rider satisfaction rating was 98%. RAPID has not disclosed the exact definitions of these measures. Given the project’s success, the North Central Texas Council of Governments awarded it additional grants to continue for a further two years until 2024. RAPID plans to use the new funds to also add vehicles with more seating capacity and work towards removing the safety driver.


RAPID’s first year represents encouraging progress in the autonomous vehicle space, which by now most people have realized is far more complicated than initially thought. Importantly, results thus far indicate community acceptance, which is crucial to the success of autonomous vehicles. However, one should recall that RAPID’s vehicles operate at relatively low speeds and serve a small area. Therefore, RAPID does not indicate an acceleration in deployment timelines but is in line with Lux’s predictions of initial deployments taking place in 2021–2023. An advantage RAPID has is that it is part of a public transit arrangement, which could potentially give it access to subsidies and remove some regulatory barriers. This is different from conventional robotaxi services that are not integrated with public transit since they could negatively impact public transit ridership and face stricter regulations. Therefore, integrating such on-demand services into public transit systems, especially in those of smaller cities where public transit is usually not profitable, could help increase the reach of autonomous vehicles in the longer term. In any case, RAPID’s long-term fate will depend on how quickly it can remove the safety driver. If it is unable to do so, operations will likely be unsustainable at reasonable public transit prices even with subsidies.

What do you want to research today?