After jitney service Chariot abruptly shut down its San Francisco service last week, speculation ran rampant on the cause of the closure. But now we know the reason: Multiple drivers with the company weren't properly licensed to shuttle passengers, an issue the company says it's resolved, resuming service today.
It was just last Thursday that Chariot announced that they were shutting down service in SF, saying in a statement posted to Twitter that "Chariot is in full compliance with all regulations" but it had "received an order from a regulator to temporarily suspend service."
“We are committed to always providing our riders with safe and reliable service," the company said, "and we comply with regulatory orders even when we disagree with them."
It appears that the order that Chariot suggests they disagree with wasn't spurred by bad brakes or ADA violations, as some have reasonably speculated. Instead, we learn days after the initial suspension, the company "had an unknown number of improperly licensed drivers during three separate safety inspections," the Chron reports.
CHP Sergeant Robert Nacke tells the Chron that “drivers to have a specific license: either a class B or a class C with passenger endorsement" to drive the 15-person vans Ford-owned Chariot uses. But during three random checks over the past year, CHP inspectors found drivers working for the service that didn't have those licenses.
The CHP inspections of Chariot’s vehicles on the road in Napa in October 2016, as well as inspections of Chariot’s 95 Minna St. bus yard in March and August 2017, all found violations, according to inspection records obtained by the Examiner.
CHP inspected 20 vehicles and found one violation in 2016, according to an inspection document, and gave Chariot an “unsatisfactory rating.”
In the March inspection, the CHP found two violations out of 20 inspections.
In August, however, the CHP found its most drivers without licenses to date, as five of the drivers inspected were without Class B licenses, according to inspection documents.
Though “Our inspectors brought it to their attention and said you have to make sure your drivers have the proper training and skills,” Nacke tells the Chron, as the problem persisted "the CHP was obligated to submit a formal recommendation to the CPUC," triggering the shutdown.
“The CPUC has a responsibility to suspend a carrier’s operating permit for failure to maintain a vehicle in safe operating mode, other violations related to transportation safety, and/or failure to comply with the DMV’s employee Pull Notice Program,” CPUC spokesperson Christopher Chow tells the Chron.
The distinction between the licenses is important, the Ex says:
Commercial Class B licenses show training has been attained in driving vehicles more than 26,000 pounds, or a three-axle vehicle weighing over 6,000 pounds, farm labor vehicles, or — crucially in this case — buses.
A Class C license is the one most everyday commuters carry in their wallets, allowing drivers behind the wheels of sedans and similar sized vehicles.
As the CHP only reviews a sample of the vehicles, there's the "possibility of more drivers without proper licenses," the Ex reports.
Instead of addressing those issues with the public, Chariot instead appeared to launch a petition directed at the SFMTA, which had no role in the suspension.
Reactions were swift:
But what are we supporting? You haven’t told riders anything specific about why service was suspended.— Rob Farmer (@robfarmersf) October 20, 2017
What regulations are you alleged to be in violation of?— Rob Farmer (@robfarmersf) October 20, 2017
Why are you petitioning to SFMTA? Wasn't it the CPUC that pulled the permit?— Paul Supawanich (@tweetsupa) October 20, 2017
But though the company tweeted the campaign amid its announcements of the shut down, it is perhaps unrelated: just days before the CPUC stepped in, the SFMTA said they're planning on more-fully regulating the company. It's not immediately clear why the company might be suggesting to riders that requirements to "provide wheelchair accessible vehicles and to submit operating data to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency" means the city might not "keep [them] as a transit option in SF."
(Chariot spokesperson Erin Simpson contacted SFist to say that "Chariot launched that petition in advance of the SFMTA meeting," which was held on 10/17. Follow-up questions to Simpson on why Chariot again opted to share the petition amid numerous tweets on the unrelated shutdown as well as ignore tweeted questions asking if the shutdown and SFMTA action were related were not responded to at publication time. Nor were my questions on why Chariot doesn't check drivers for valid licenses! I'll update with her response when it arrives.)
In any case, the service is up and running as of this afternoon. According to a Chariot spokesperson who contacted SFist, the below email was sent to passengers in San Francisco this morning, and the company "will resume the afternoon commute service as regularly scheduled."
We're happy to share that effective Monday afternoon, service will be back on and running as regularly scheduled. We've resolved the situation and do not expect any future interruptions. Thank you so much for your patience, and for all your support during this time.
From our brand new and monthly-serviced vehicles, to our employee drivers who undergo extensive training, we take our commitment to safety very seriously and know you trust us daily with your commute. We passed all inspections on Friday as expected and continue to be in compliance with all regulations.
Thanks again for being a loyal Chariot rider and helping us become the best way to commute in SF. See you on the road this afternoon!