A new public-private partnership launched Monday attempts to fill in the transportation void in north Fort Worth.
At about 8 a.m., the first group of commuters that included Mayor Betsy Price rode the Mercantile ZipZone, a ride-sharing service providing transportation around Mercantile Center Station area.
Fort Worth Transportation Authority, Trinity Metro, dubs it the "first line/last mile solution" for commuters to get to their workplace.
As part of the project, five Mercedez Benz vans have been deployed in the Mercantile area to provide on-demand transportation services. Commuters can hail a ride within a geo-coded boundary through the ZipZone mobile app.
With a maximum $3 fare, the cost of ZipZone is relatively cheaper when compared to other ridesharing services, like Uber or Lyft. And, the city-supported transportation service is more convenient and secured, said Bob Baulsir, president and CEO of Trinity Metro.
"The quality of service is much higher because we don't have private operators with a vehicle with a lot of miles on it," Baulsir said. "And then, it's a shared service, which we think is the way to go."
ZipZone is operated by New York-based Via Transportation Inc., which provided more than 100,000 rides in Arlington during its launch year in 2017.
Via's technology enables multiple passengers headed in the same direction to seamlessly share their ride, rerouting vehicles in real-time.
ZipZone's vans can seat up to 7 people at once.
The Mercantile area currently has about 18,000 jobs, according to officials.
The concept of multiple passengers sharing one ride and Via's technology can significantly reduce traffic congestion and environmental pollution.
"It's an exciting day here in Fort Worth to see transit expanding," Price said. "It truly is the future."
While authorizing the ZipZone plan back in May, Fort Worth City Council signed an agreement to fund $500,000 to the project.
Mercantile Partners LP, which manages the 1300-acres Mercantile real estate, offered to subsidize the ZipZone fare in its area. Rides in the Mercantile Center zone will cost $1.
As of right now, the Mercantile ZipZone project will be a one-year pilot project. But there are plans to further extend it.
"I think we simply have to invest," Price said. "Maybe not the dollars that everyone really like to have. But, we will have dollars and it's a start. Because, these pilot programs are very innovative and they are what catches people's attention. You really have to think about the broader public and how they going to do?"
Trinity Metro had launched similar ZipZone service in Alliance corridor in February. But, the Mercantile project is unlike Alliance's, which simply relies on services from Lyft.
And, there are plans –yet to be considered – to start ZipZone services in other areas of the city. Near Southside and around Crowley are two places being considered, officials said.
"Great cities have great transportation systems," Trinity Metro chairman Scott Mahaffey said. "Things like [ZipZone] opens up opportunities for people to move between jobs, home, business, trains and becomes a complete transit system."