Check the app, lords and ladies: Your "Chariot" awaits. The two-year-old network of about 90 14-seater vans that are only elegant when compared with Muni — which is maybe the point — is coming to the Mission District, as Mission Local learns.
Chariot has been quietly expanding for some time, maintaining a lower profile than the likes of more obvious outrage targets like the now-defunct Leap. But could the Mission, ground zero for resistance to another kind of tech shuttle — the Google Bus to Mountain View kinds — be Chariot's waterloo?
Obviously the company doesn't think so, dubbing their coming route “Mission Possible” — others are named stuff like "Pacific Rush" — and insisting that rider demand here was the impetus for the choice to expand. “We really want to be the solution for the masses,” says CEO Ali Vahabzadeh who says he was inspired by the '70s jitney's of San Francisco and the contemporary van pooling he saw while visiting Nepal. A Chariot ride costs $3.50 one way.
Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, weighed in on the service to Mission Local. “If there is a transit line that’s running and serving a lot of people but doesn’t have additional capacity, micro transit services could potentially provide spillover complementary services they are mirroring a fixed routes,” she says. “Micro transit could help. But from its history, it was competing [with public transit] and in most cases in the U.S. it was outlawed. But in the future, it could be viewed as a more supportive partner.”
Vahabzadeh, for his part, sees Chariot as engaging in competition with Uber and Lyft rather than Muni and BART. In order to differentiate himself from those companies he touts the satisfaction of his drivers — who are employees. “I think Uber and Lyft have done an extraordinary job at producing this propaganda that everyone wants this 1099 liberty-and maybe some people feel like that,” Vahabzadeh says. “But a lot of our drivers have turned away from [these companies] because they have a guaranteed income with us. I think most people don’t like living with that uncertainty of, what’s my paycheck going to look like tomorrow?’”