Flush with an undisclosed influx of cash following September's acquisition by Ford Motor Company, private shuttle service Chariot announced that it intends to both add 50 new vans and several new routes to its San Francisco offerings. The Chronicle reports that riders should start noticing increases in shuttle frequency immediately, and that routes serving the Sunset and Potrero Hill should be running by January.
The growth comes at a time when Chariot seeks to expand its on-demand service to five cities in addition to SF — the company brought its 15-seat passenger vans to Austin last month, offering crowd-sourced routes like it does here in SF. “This is a private company producing a public good,” Chariot CEO and founder Ali Vahabzadeh told the paper. “We provide more commuting options for individuals and are 100 percent commuter-financed with no taxpayer funding.”
Chariot has managed to avoid many of the missteps that sunk high-end competitors like Leap, and its actual-employee drivers (not contractors) put the company in stark contrast to Lyft and Uber. However, with Ford promising self-driving Taxis by 2021, one might assume that like with Uber drivers the lifetime of a Chariot driver's job may be short.
Unlike Uber and Lyft, Chariot rides on fixed routes — like Muni. Differing from Muni, the routes are crowd-sourced and riders are guaranteed a seat. Also unlike Muni, a one-way ride on average costs $4.
Currently offering 33 local routes, the addition of the vans will increase the fleet size from 100 to 150 and will likely make the service a more appealing option for those whose routes to work aren't well covered by existing public transit. “This will allow us to address a lot of the pent-up demand for our services, and bring in people who’ve been driving cars or taking ride-sharing,” Vahabzadeh explained to the Chron.
Even with its professed everyman-friendly ethos, Chariot has been on the receiving end of criticism arguing that it and services like it lead to a divestment in public transit. And coming out of startup incubator Y Combinator, it is perhaps easy to see why some may look at the company with wary eyes. That doesn't stop customers, like the ones who ride it from Embarcadero BART Station to work at Fisherman's Wharf, from singing the company's praises.
"It’s super easy,” Nikki Carlson, who works at Tuscan Hotel, told the Chron. “As soon as I get off BART, I order my ride, and normally it’s about one to five minutes until a Chariot is there, and then 10 or 12 minutes to my stop. You see a lot of the same faces every day, so it’s familiar and friendly."