After Ali Vahabzadeh moved several times to secure a more convenient commute to his South-of-Market workplace he became aware of the value San Franciscans place on a reliable, stress-free, and affordable work commute. As he bicycled to SoMa from the Mission he saw commuters standing at bus stops as Muni buses sailed past, full to capacity. And Vahabzadeh knew that some residents paid as much as $20 for a one-way trip to work through Lyft or Uber.
Vahabzadeh’s solution to the transportation challenge is Chariot, a crowdsourced and crowdfunded van service that launched in 2014. In a remarkably short time, Chariot has amassed a fleet of 84 14-seater vans that offer quick, reliable service on 11 routes during morning and evening commute hours, 6:30 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. Chariot provides 15,000 rides per week, and is growing. The service is inexpensive. Most customers pay $3 to $4 per one-way ride. Monthly passes entitle users to unlimited rides for $93 a month.
Chariot’s routes are crowdfunded. After potential customers download Chariot’s app they’re asked to enter their home and work addresses. Based on these data Chariot determines the routes that’re most in demand. Once interest in a particular route meets a critical mass, said Vahabzadeh, Chariot begins crowdfunding that route. Customers who have downloaded the app are asked to reserve their first ride with a credit card. After 125 commuters have booked a trip, Chariot begins providing service along the route within two days. Customer credit cards aren’t charged until service begins.
Chariot’s vans follow a predetermined route with multiple stops based on crowdsourcing data. In keeping with San Francisco’s policy about curb use by private vehicles, Chariot relies on public passenger loading zones – white curbs – whenever possible. Since the vehicles are commercially licensed they also use yellow commercial zones as needed.
Chariot may be coming to Potrero Hill. The crowdfunding process began in mid-February, and has amassed more than 35 confirmed users. As soon as 90 more Hill residents signup for the service Chariot will begin providing service within two days. The “Potrero Pronto” will then join other cleverly-named routes, like the “Mission Possible” and the “Chestnut Bullet.” The Potrero Pronto will stop at multiple neighborhood locations, providing service between the Hill and the 22nd Street Caltrain station within 15 minutes. Average Potrero Pronto payments will be $4 per ride.
Vahabzadeh’s research indicates that Hill commuters are more likely to drive to work than rely on mass transit. For motorists, Chariot offers a relaxed and reliable alternative for less than the cost of gasoline and Downtown parking. Chariot users are guaranteed seats after they make their reservations. The vans are fully insured and driven by professional drivers. Because most commuters follow the same route daily, Chariot riders often find themselves traveling with the same passengers, giving the experience a social component. Chariot qualifies as a transit vendor, enabling riders with commuter benefits to pay with pre-tax dollars. For Hill residents who commute by bus, Vahabzadeh estimated that Potrero Pronto service will be 50 percent faster than Muni service along similar routes.
Chariot is new to San Francisco, but similar services are offered in other cities around the world. As he worked to launch Chariot, Vahabzedeh traveled to Tel Aviv, Mexico City, Singapore, and Brooklyn to ride on commuter vans.
In addition to adding City routes, Chariot is expanding service to areas outside San Francisco. It already offers a route to and from Mill Valley. Vahabzadeh expects to add other suburban lines as the company grows. Chariot vans are also available for charter on weekends, when commuter service isn’t available.