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Peter’s Take: Should Arlington Include Ride Sharing in its Transit Plans?

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

A recent article (“Arlington Studying A Plan That Would Pay for your Uber to Metro”) in The Washington Post triggered feverish comments on its website, ARLnow.com and social media, like:

So my South Arlington taxes will be used to chauffeur the 1% from North Arlington?

Let them snarlingtonians ride in old crowded buses. We want our mini limos!

The county government subsequently issued a media advisory clarifying the nature of the county’s ride-sharing study. The clarification included a denial that a decision had been made to subsidize ride sharing.

According to the media advisory:

The new service is being analyzed for the following neighborhoods, where bus ridership does not meet our productivity standards (at least 15 passengers per hour):

  • Rock Spring, Williamsburg Middle School, and Dominion Hills
  • Chain Bridge Forest, Rivercrest, Bellevue Forest, Gulf Branch, and Stafford-Albermarle-Glebe
  • Douglas Park, Nauck, and Arlington Village

The proposed service could connect these areas to a transit center, such as the Ballston or East Falls Church Metrorail stations, or to a transit corridor, such as Columbia Pike

Discussion

Very low ridership on Arlington’s ART Bus 53 led to suggestions to cancel that route. Some commenters supported outright cancellation (“save the money; refund it to the taxpayers”). For now, this route has been saved, and a study of ride sharing as a substitute has begun.

I agree that ride sharing is worth studying.

One knowledgeable commenter observed that, when he last checked, “ART Bus 53 carried only 11 people per revenue hour and recovered only 12% of its cost.” Regardless of the actual numbers, the principle is certainly valid: if ridership on any ART bus route anywhere in the county drops too low, some action — whether outright cancellation, consolidation with another ART bus route, or ride sharing — are all potentially valid responses.

Standards for a ride-sharing subsidy

Arlington County should study a variety of standards for a ride-sharing subsidy, including:

  • Limiting the trip only to certain origins/destinations, like home to a Metro or bus stop or return home from one.
  • Having a maximum personal individual income ceiling for any participant.
  • Having an over-all dollar cap on program utilization in any particular defined area. (Use a lottery if the program is over-subscribed.)
  • Ending the ride-sharing program, and resuming/substituting ART bus service, if demand rises to a point above a pre-determined level of ART bus service viability (like the current 15 passengers per hour or some higher number).

Types of ride-sharing options

In addition to Uber and Lyft, the county should explore the costs and benefits of partnering with a transit provider like Bridj . Bridj currently offers limited pop-up bus service in D.C. Bridj is considered by some as the best hope to bring urban transportation into the 21st century.

Paratransit policy

County residents with disabilities should be offered the widest possible range of ADA-compliant transit options at the lowest possible cost. The county should study these ride-sharing recommendations from a metropolitan Boston report.

Conclusion

Fortunately, Arlington isn’t grappling with these transit policy questions in a vacuum. Other communities across America are doing so as well. The American Public Transportation Association sees ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft as complementary to traditional transportation options.

Let’s find the best options for Arlington.

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