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August 22, 2018 5:15 PM, EDT

In One Texas City, You Can Soon Request an Autonomous Vehicle on Demand

Drive.ai self-driving vehicle Arlington plans to deploy a fleet of 19 vehicles from Silicon Valley-based Drive.ai. (Drive.ai)

Autonomous vehicles are coming to another Dallas suburb.

The city of Arlington approved a one-year contract Aug. 21 with Silicon Valley-based Drive.ai to offer a new way for people get around its entertainment district, whether to Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys games, concerts at the stadiums or restaurants and bars. The service will begin Oct. 19 with a fleet of three autonomous vans.

Visitors and residents in Arlington will be able to request a ride on demand in a self-driving van. Each van will hold three passengers. The vans will travel on public streets alongside other cars but will be programmed to operate only in a designated part of Arlington’s entertainment district. They will travel at up to 35 mph.

Initially, each van will include a safety operator. The fleet may expand to five vans, if needed.

Arlington and Drive.ai said more details, such as hours of operation, will be available closer to the pilot’s launch.

The one-year pilot will cost about $435,000, according to the city of Arlington. Most of the funding — $343,000 — will come from the federal government through the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Grant.

The pilot is just one of several steps that North Texas — and the city of Arlington — has taken toward a future when cars, trucks and buses may use software, rather than humans, to guide them. From August 2017 to August 2018, Arlington had a free autonomous shuttle called Milo on private roads near its entertainment district. In late July, Drive.ai began a six-month pilot in Frisco for the approximately 10,000 people who work in Hall Park, a large campus of office buildings, to get to nearby shops and restaurants.

Texas is one of 10 places in the country chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation as proving grounds where companies and public agencies can test automated technology for cars, trucks and buses.

For city officials, shared autonomous vehicles also are a possible solution to traffic congestion in fast-growing cities. Frisco, which is home to Drive.ai’s other pilot, is the fastest-growing large city in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. It gains an average of 37 residents a day.

Arlington will show off the Drive.ai vans at the Texas Mobility Summit, a three-day conference that it is hosting in October.

In a news release, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said he’s enthusiastic about the city testing autonomous vehicles and said it “will prepare the city to take advantage of unique and efficient transportation options as they become available.”

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