The latest transportation option in busy Seattle will be Chariot, 14-seat minibuses for direct commuting and last-mile employee shuttles.
The private micro-transit company Chariot will announce Wednesday it has entered the busy Seattle market, starting with shuttle routes arranged by local employers.
Chariot is a division of Ford Smart Mobility. It operates in Austin and San Francisco and is recruiting drivers for Seattle and New York.
Its 14-seat van appeared, with a bicycle, in an unorthodox Super Bowl adwhere Ford promoted holistic mobility, rather than its latest auto design.
CEO Ali Vahabzadeh said his first phase is the enterprise market, where businesses, hospitals and nonprofits arrange and pay for “first- and last-mile” routes. Possibilities include shuttles to Colman Dock or King Street Station.
Chariot will eventually invite commuters to campaign online for routes, a form of crowdsourcing. A group in Renton might request a direct trip to Seattle, he said.
“As soon as we get a critical mass of people, we launch a twice-daily service during commuter hours. We’re providing service where people want us.”
Chariot is vertically integrated — from Ford-supplied vans to the employee drivers, to phone apps — so it can carry people inexpensively, at a typical fare near $4, he said. Vans here will be wheelchair accessible.
Chariot would both supplement and compete with public transit, which in the Seattle region serves about 700,000 daily riders.
Transit agencies have paid millions to add last-mile streetcar lines, while private buses for Amazon, Seattle Children’s and others shuttle employees from light-rail stations and other stops.
Will the Chariot option be good for the general public?
There isn’t enough data yet in San Francisco to answer that, said Professor Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC-Berkeley.
One benefit is flexibility, giving people a chance to avoid overcrowded buses at less cost than driving or a taxi. Commuters might ride public buses sometimes, and use Chariot or carpools other days, Shaheen said.
A possible downside would be if private micro transit creates a two-tier system that divides affluent commuters from poorer people, a highly sensitive question of equity, she said.