San Francisco-based shuttle operator Chariot, acquired by Ford Motor Company in 2016, will end its operations by March in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, New York, Columbus, Detroit, Denver, and London.
"As you know, the mobility landscape is rapidly changing, we’ve made the tough decision that Chariot is not going to be a sustainable business moving forward,” Erin First, a spokesperson with Chariot, told Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, transportation reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, on Thursday.
The startup began operations in San Francisco in 2014 and outlived its two fellow private competitors, Leap and Loup, all providing a microtransit alternative for commuters who had mostly relied on the city's public transit fleet, known as Muni, composed of buses, light rail, streetcars and cable cars. It was acquired by Ford Motor Company in late 2016.
Chariot offered rides in small buses the size of vans to the public, in a system similar to Uber where riders can request stops using a mobile phone app. The company mostly mirrored Muni’s most popular bus routes, ferrying riders from the Marina to the Financial District, and other neighborhoods throughout The City.
"February 1 will be the last day we will offer service on our commuter routes in the U.S.," said CEO Dan Grossman in a statement. "We will cease all operations across the US and in the UK by the end of March."
"A ride on Chariot cost between $3.80 and $5.00, depending on the time of day, and monthly passes ran up to $119," reports Adam Brinklow for Curbed SF. "The company operated more than half a dozen routes in San Francisco."
"Chariot wouldn’t provide many details about why the service was shutting down except to allude to failing ridership numbers," adds Kirsten Korosec for TechCrunch.
Reports of sluggish demand and company morale had been trickling out for months now. A post in August by Streetsblog noted that Chariot’s shuttles in New York were empty most of the time, according to data provided by the company and evaluated by transit analyst Eric Goldwyn. That analysis found that Chariot’s fleet of 25 or so vans was serving around 1,000 riders total, or about nine riders per vehicle per day.
Korosec describes how Chariot fit in with the other mobility services acquired by, and expanded under, Ford Motor Company in the Ford Smart Mobility division which includes bike share in the Bay Area.
Ed Reiskin, Director of Transportation of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency told The Examiner's Rodriguez that "it wasn’t a surprise that Chariot faced challenges."
"We know from our experience and needing to serve all the people of San Francisco that transit requires a subsidy,” Reiskin said. “The idea that mass transit can be offered under a private for-profit model I think is a questionable proposition.”
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