Publication Date: Sep 22, 2022
This is a transcript of a video interview with Ann Foss on May 16, 2022 in Chicago, IL at the Mobility Innovation Collaborative workshop. Find these videos on the Mobility Learning Center here.
Tell us about yourself and your project.
Hi, I’m Anne Foss. I’m a Principal Planner with the Office of Strategic Initiatives in the City of Arlington, Texas, and we were fortunate to receive an IMI grant from FTA in 2020.
What inspired your project?
So in Arlington, we have been testing autonomous vehicle technology since 2017. We had done two pilots and then we also have an on-demand ride-share service that functions as our public transportation solution in Arlington. And we’ve always been really interested in merging those two together and seeing how AV technology can operate on an on-demand and ride-sharing environment and how those two modes might be complementary and better serve our residents.
What are your project goals?
With our IMI project, we are integrating a fleet of autonomous vehicles onto our on-demand ride-share service. The area that we’re serving is around our downtown core, which is our civic and cultural center, as well as the University of Texas at Arlington, which has over 40,000 on campus students. So, it’s a fairly dense part of Arlington, which overall is much lower-density, suburban style development. It serves a population of students and others in the downtown area who tend to be underserved by transportation options.
How are you engaging with your end users?
We’re doing a lot of outreach and education to help kind of inform the public about the service and how the AV technology works. We really hope that by exposing people to AVs, and helping them understand them, kind of kick the tires, so to speak, they’ll feel more comfortable with AVs and more likely to be AV adopters. And then we’re also doing a lot of outreach once people have ridden and kind of once the service has been live. So we’ve done surveys, both of riders specifically, but also of the general public to find out just how people feel about the AVs and the service more generally. And then we’ve also done some focus groups and interviews with riders to get more in-depth information and feedback.
How does your project impact your community?
We ran the service for one year with the FTA funding and we gave over 28,000 rides on the AVs. We saw new riders trying it out each month over the course of that year, but we also saw folks riding it again and again. So we really felt like this AV service was kind of meeting people’s daily transportation needs. We also see from our ridership surveys that the majority of our riders tend to be lower income and don’t have access to a personal vehicle. So again, really kind of meeting the needs of our population. And then we also had some survey questions that asked how people felt about the AVs. Did they feel safe? Did they feel comfortable? Would they want to ride again? And the vast majority of respondents to those surveys did feel safe, did enjoy their experience, and would ride again and would recommend the service to friends and family.
Tell us about your project partners and their role.
So the city of Arlington is partnering with Via Transportation. They operate our broader ride share service, and that’s been in place in Arlington since 2017. So they’re an integral part of kind of hosting the larger platform for the AV service. We’re also partnering with May Mobility who provides the autonomous vehicles and operates those for us. And then also with the University of Texas at Arlington, both from an operational perspective because we are operating on and around campus, but then also from a research perspective. We’ve got a great team of researchers that are really helping us evaluate and analyze the service. It’s very much been a joint effort with all of these partners, from applying for the grant all the way through to standing it up and running it.
How does the Shared-Use Mobility Center support your project and team?
Working with the SUMC team has been great for us. You know, you guys have really provided a lot of information and technical assistance. And then I think the most beneficial thing for us has been the opportunity to meet on a monthly basis with the other IMI and AIM grantees, really talking to the people who are in the trenches and seeing what they’re seeing and learning and doing has been invaluable for us. And the SUMC team has done a great job of bringing us together and drawing out more information. You guys always have great questions for us and lead good in-depth conversations so that we really understand the nitty gritty of the projects we’re working on.