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Chariot is shutting down (blog.chariot.com)
179 points by muzz 5 months ago | hide | past | web | 192 comments | favorite

I used Chariot a bit a couple years ago. Sad to see it go. For people who haven't heard of it, it worked like this: I live in SF, and worked in Redwood City. Every day, there was some type of large van that would pick me up a couple blocks from where I lived and dropped me off a couple blocks from where I worked. So it was like a middle ground between public transportation and Uber / Lyft.

Isn't what you described an example of how buses work. I know very little about the state of public transport in SF but if it was better won't it solve what Chariot tried to do?

San Francisco and Redwood City are roughly 30 miles apart. In the Bay Area, in particular, buses tend to work on a city or county level, which would mean to make this trip, assuming buses were conveniently located, timed, and without too many stops, it would involve using several transit systems, unfortunately. San Francisco and Redwood City not only have dozens of other cities between them, but they're also in 2 different counties (San Francisco and San Mateo county, to be specific). I don't want to say we don't have cooperation between transit agencies, but they are at least distinct entities for these services.

A better solution would be the train. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) serves many counties and cities, but does not go that far south.

Caltrain serves both San Francisco and Redwood City quite well; however, the nearest station is miles from the Marina district, and depending on destination, would require a transfer on the other end as well.

Of course, I'm sure Chariot involved multiple stops as well, but presumably most riders took it every day, so it was a route that was tailored to the riders of that van, rather than a generic public transit service that might have inconveniently timed transfers, too many stops, or other issues.

EDIT: Actually, it looks like I am incorrect. SamTrans (San Mateo County) actually does go from Redwood City to San Francisco by bus, at least on the 397 and 398 routes, but only midday and it will take almost 2 hours, as it's entirely on surface streets for those ~30 miles (and the terminus on either end is not particularly more likely to be more convenient than the much faster train) http://www.samtrans.com/schedulesandmaps/maps.html

This sounds like why Sound Transit exists in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area. It basically creates an adapter pattern-like third agency that manages the long distance routes between the major cities and counties.

The problem is that two municipalities (one on each side of the bay) voted down the measures that would have funded the regional transit agency.

Thus, the train lines stop at the borders of these two municipalities, and there are two other train systems that cover the missing area.

(BART, Amtrak, and Caltrain.)

Not "municipalities"; counties.

And they opted out because they would have had to pay in fully with no service for years, followed by inferior service forever (they were to be cash cows).

I was going to comment the same; I lived in Tacoma and committed to Seattle for 4 years, and it was incredibly convenient, even with the traffic on I5. The seattle-tacoma route had more frequent intervals than the local Tacoma busses did and the transit was pretty nice. Usually full but never packed (except last bus of the evening)

this makes no sense that for someone in redwood city bart is the solution but not caltrain. redwood city doesn’t need 2 separate train lines before you can commute to sf.

Samtrans buses does the entire thing in one bus. it will get you into the city and back. and it’ll be 4+ hours a day commute. but the buses do run a lot of hours. chariot could probably do this in an hour each way, which would be faster than caltrain

this is pretty on par with other countries and cities. only a handful of (larger) cities have city wide metro coverage. smaller cities have better bus service. biking is huge in cities this size, including, san francisco for this reason. or ride one of the new hotness scooter apps.

I didn't say BART would be the best solution.

I merely pointed out that the train would be preferable to the bus, and outlined the 2 trains, one of which is not an option.

On the other hand, ACTransit from Oakland to SF is really quite good for commuting.

It's OK. They have nice travel busses that they use most of the time but any day they can run out of them and I can unexpectedly get stuck with an uncomfortable regular bus. I stopped taking Transbay most of the time and switched back to Emery-Go-Round and BART after a few months of taking it.

This was with being one of the last stops before SF and having a good onramp to get onto the freeway. I tried taking it from the east oakland hills when I lived there and it was completely unpalatable.

I take AC Transit every day (for the last 5 years) and if you get on at the last stop it's standing room only and terrible where busses sometimes drive by you. But, from my house, I have a seat every single morning no question and in the evening, as long as I'm ~10 minutes early to the stop in SF I get a seat.

I ride the F, which is a "normal" bus, but it's 10x better than BART for comfort, temperature, smell, etc. The trip takes me 40-50 minutes on a normal day.

SF public transit is pretty disfunctional and Chariot was trying to offer an alternative.

- Timeliness - Busses and trains reliability are a joke compared to developed countries

- Cleanliness - Due to an unmitigated homeless problem, the busses and trains operate as "day shelters"

- Organization - There are dozens of different transit operators for what is one major metro region. Schedules are poorly synced, and even with a unified payment card you still have to buy different passes for multiple agencies

- Reliability - The union bullies the city around, and there is no accountability.

A lot of the history of transit-disrupting startups in the SF Bay Area can be attributed to how truly bad public transit in the SF Bay Area is. I understood Uber a lot more after trying to hail a taxi in SF. (Same with Boring Company and LA traffic.)

A real disruptive solution for humanity - but a hard one to monetize - would be to figure out why cities with good public transit / shared transit infrastructure managed to build them (off the top of my head, Tokyo, NYC-of-the-past, parts of China, Chicago, etc.) and figure out how to replicate it elsewhere.

old cities: built dense for walking, because cars didn't exist.

new cities: built dense for walking and public transit because private car ownership isn't that common in China

20th century USA cities: built for cars. Sprawl makes public transit too expensive because it requires many lines with low ridership. Wide roads, long distances, and cars flying around everywhere makes walking scary. Driving becomes the only attractive mode of transportation.

The problem is deeply embedded in the urban layout and the culture. It will take decades of destruction & rebuilding, plus a huge cultural shift, before USA cities can be fixed.

This isn't quite true for many of the big cities of interest. There was an active high-modernist effort in the ~70s to destroy the walkable, transitable, livable parts of many American cities and cut freeways across them like big ugly neighborhood-destroying scars.

Even transit wastelands like LA had an actual urban core (that they're now rebuilding), as well as a relatively extensive network of streetcars.

The core of san francisco, probably 30% of the city's 49 sq mile landmass, and where 60%+ of the population lives, was built before cars existed. Most of SF was a walking/horse city, and then a walking/streetcar/cablecar city.

Also add:

- years of racism (then: buses are only for white people. now: buses are only for poor people of color, and thus should not be funded.)

- a history of destruction happening primarily in neighbourhoods of ethnic minorities (e.g. the razing of SoMa in the 80s)

Low Private car ownership isnt a cultural thing in China, it's qutie heavily regulated and coming from above. e.g. getting a license plate takes ages, at certain days only certain license plates can drive.

Years too long also.

We'll have self driving cars long before we could restructure many of our cities to have effective public transit.

There are many cities that do certain things better than others, but what I don't understand is that most local politicians don't travel there and learn from how others govern their cities and don't accept their own problems have been solved elsewhere.

Follow SF politics for a couple of years, and you'll see that the problem isn't lack of technocratic solutions, it's politics (with some exceptions that tend to be problems larger than a single city's scope). A supervisor can go tour every functional city in the world and when they came back, they wouldn't be any more effective, because knowledge of how to fix things wasn't the blocker.

Chicken and egg problem. You can’t have a good transport system if people don’t use it (too expensive) and people won’t use it unless it’s good. Was in San Francisco recently and it really is mostly impressively bad, but one of the major sources of badness is that it’s mostly pretty infrequent. Presumably because people don’t use it.

Edit: One thing they could fix, easily; unified, visitor accessible, payment system. And more realtime bus information. Those are simple things that they could borrow off any decent-sized European city.

Further edit: looks like the Clipper card is easier to get than I thought. Googled before I went, but must have gotten outdated information.

The hard part is how to make it work politically. I don't know if any place has really done it in an environment that was mostly built out already. Manhattan used to have 700k more residents than it does now, and that was when a lot of the island was still farmland - people spread out with the trains. Once you're out of space it's very difficult to develop transit, because that would probably mean a homeowner doesn't get what they want.

Privatize it and stop letting local politics strangle it


> In Japan, being in the railway business means being in the real estate business, explained Egon Terplan, SPUR’s regional planning director, at Thursday afternoon’s panel discussion about what the Bay Area can learn from Japanese transit station area development. “They are able to capture the value of the train stations they are building and beyond. One third of the revenue is from retail, services, hotels.”

> That’s because rather than contracting out the business opportunities on the real estate around their stations, they own it all–everything from department stores to vending machines on the platforms. That has turned Japan’s six passenger railway companies–Hokkaido Railway Company, East Japan Railway Company, Central Japan Railway Company, West Japan Railway Company, Shikoku Railway Company, and Kyushu Railway Company–into hugely profitable corporations.

> “These are companies listed on the stock exchange; they make money,” said Terplan. They also, together, carry nearly a third of the world’s railway passengers.

> In Japan, the profit motive of real estate, retail, and office space–in addition to the trains–becomes a bit of a feedback loop. The Japanese railway companies want to maximize the value they derive from space around the stations. So transit oriented development isn’t just about housing. In Japan, it includes department stores, office buildings, shops, and hotels, and housing on different levels directly above and below the stations.

Regulation is a serious problem in "free market" USA. Subway construction is 7x the cost in NYC than Paris because of land and labor regulations. It's out of control, nobody cares because most just blame some other thing like funding being insufficient when that's not really the case. Instead they'll try to get more from the gas tax instead of fixing the root problem.

It's an interesting concept that I am not sure will work in the North American context. You see far greater numbers of conglomerates that own multiple businesses in Asia than in North America/Europe. North American business schools are all about focusing on one business and one industry.

I don't know the West coast very well, so I'm curious -- are there any (smaller) cities there where you can actually get by without a car to do grocery shopping, commute to one's office (assuming it's in the same town/city), etc.? I'm thinking something comparable to Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Berlin, where you can get by with a bike and/or subway, or often just walking. Portland? Seattle?

I've visited Silicon Valley and SF, and I remember it as being really pedestrian-unfriendly. A friend of mine has a story about visiting San Jose without a car, and not being able to go to a bookstore because, while the map showed it as being a block away and he could clearly see it, there was no way to reach it on foot from where he was.

Even within the Larger Bay Area there is plenty of smaller cities with a well developed and prolific downtowns that have startups, retail, supermarkets, bars and restaurants all within walking distance of a rail system connecting you to SF: Mountain View, Oakland, Redwood City or where I live - San Mateo. My family and I have been a 1-car household for more than a decade and mostly walk everywhere including a train station for a 25min ride to SF

I have lived in San Francisco since 2000 and have never owned a car. Transit varies a lot by neighborhood, but I think there are plenty of places to live and get by with just transit and/or a bicycle.

Yep - Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver BC all fit into this "don't need a car, just take the subway or walk" camp. According to a friend that lives there, Bellingham "almost kinda counts" for this category, too, but I haven't been to confirm/deny.

There's cases where Car2Go/etc. are useful out this way, but generally I don't use a car often (having lived in Seattle and Vancouver BC since coming to the PNW).

Edit: I should clarify. You can't just plop down anywhere - if you live up at the top of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, you're gonna have a rougher commute to downtown than someone who lives in, say, Columbia City near the light rail line. Much like Chicago or NYC, your proximity to high-frequency transit corridors will greatly decrease your stress levels.

Hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans shop from local markets and commute to work downtown every day. A single bus line has over 50K riders every day. I would guess 10’s of thousands commute to work by bike within sf.

This place is not Dallas.

Vancouver, BC is probably the easiest city on the West Coast to manage without a car. The downtown core is very walkable, and there is reasonable public transit through most of the greater metro area. There's a high proportion of residential buildings downtown, and many have pretty empty parking lots as cars aren't necessary for a lot of people most of the time, and there are a number of competing car share services the rest of the time.

It's possible on the West Coast, and actually probably easier to do in bigger cities. However you need to be particular about where you live and work, which usually involves paying more money. It also becomes much harder if you have a significant other and kids.

How is San Jose "pedestrian-unfriendly"? You can walk anywhere but on freeways. You just have to dodge assholes on scooters now and then.

As to your first question, you can live without a car anywhere if you choose to live near work and other frequent destinations.

I have lived in San Francisco for 15 years with no car, both at the bottom of the nation's income brackets and near the top.

Some people just don't want to mix with "normal" people and a lot of San Franciscans wish they would fucking leave.

If you're ever in London, I recommend visiting the Museum of Transport in Covent Garden to understand how London's transit system developed.

Singapore would be easy to monetize, some of the lines are run as for-profit (it's also one of the cheapest systems around)

This. Let transit be a business and fix the incentives.

> would be to figure out why cities with good public transit / shared transit infrastructure managed to build them

Few NIMBYs and a less-car-focused mentality which is typical of the US.

It doesn't matter how well you are "solving a pain", when it turns out to be more of a localized pain of a city you reside in. The addressable market reduces to "cities with a dysfunctional transit system".

Most US cities are lacking a functional transit system. Seattle, Portland and a few others are odd birds in how transit gets dedicated bus jumps/lanes, signal priority, and is generally notably faster than driving during rush hour.

In Seattle specifically, the city taxes businesses who don't provide transit passes for their employees. It varies from the urban core to the further flung parts of town, but if you buy every employee a transit pass, its often equal cost or cheaper than the tax you pay per employee.

Bikers, people walking to work & those who buy passes elsewhere have to regularly recertify they aren't driving, which is a form that can be a tad annoying to fill out.

Chariot is private so can span multiple cities, counties, etc without a problem (for example, Palo Alto is 2 counties away from San Francisco)

Chariot had a lot of smaller busses, like the size of those airport parking lot shuttles.

Personally, I'm really surprised at this. Chariot seemed to have a lot of corporate accounts (for things like shuttles to/from CalTrain to Company X), that I would have guessed they could charge a premium for.

There is a bus that does that route. It follows El Camino (35-40mph most of the way) from San Jose to San Francisco. I used to take it as a broke college student and it was absolutely a last resort. Not only does it make dozens of stops but the bus is generally dirty and a hangout for transients. It ran 24/7 and took well over 2 hours each way, so homeless people would ride it basically all day.

Well, a series of three buses (one by Muni, one by SamTrans, and one by VTA).

But the homeless sleeping on the bus for $6/night is well documented: https://www.mercurynews.com/2013/10/31/homeless-turn-overnig...

VTA allows this because it artificially inflates their dismal census.

It's correct to describe Chariot as a midpoint between buses and Uber/Lyft. Buses operate on a fixed route that takes years to change. Chariot was minibuses with more dynamic, niche routes.

But like any mass transit system it needs a critical mass to break even. And they faced heavily subsidized competition on both sides.[1] (Buses subsidized by taxpayers, Uber/Lyft subsidized by VC.)

[1] https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/San-Francisco-s...

In Russia and eastern Europe this sort of transportation is called a Marshrutka: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshrutka

Works really well.

Chariot is a Point A to Point E services. Busesses are a Point A -> B -> C -> D -> E service.

One is more efficient if you have a large number of people going to the same place at the same time, the other is more efficient if a lot of people need to go to different places.

Not quite. Chariot routes also have a sizable number of stops between start and end points. The only difference is that rides have to be booked in advance, so the drivers know what stops they can skip.

Where I work, Chariot is used as a Park n Ride type solution. We have 4 routes where you can hop on and get taken to work. I'm guessing other companies can have different configurations.

or in my case, point A...ZA in 6 miles. Literally 27 stops (and one transfer).

In Latin/South America, routes like this are handled by private transport called Combis in similar looking vans. They supplement public transport and have been wildly successful as a public/private partnership.

Also, San Francisco and Redwood city are in different counties with different politics, private enterprise is sometimes faster at filling gaps in transit than public government, especially in the short term.

My impression is it was like a super express bus, so it was local at pickup, then many miles on freeway, then a few miles on local again eith drop offs.

Chariot was a shuttle bus service.

It sounds a bit like marshrutka[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshrutka

Every time I return to Russia these fascinate me. They have many routes and will stop wherever you request. The general term is Share taxi: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Share_taxi

The Wikipedia picture is from Senegal.

When I visited, these were chaotic, but by some means the passengers would get to the destination. I spent one journey with my head between my knees, since the whole floor of the bus was loaded with sacks of grain and sugar women had bought at the market. Another journey, I was wedged amongst about 20 children — there is always room for an additional child on a car rapide. The windows were kept closed (I have no idea why), it was about 40° inside.

I particularly remember being asked to get off the bus, but for the first time, there was also a confused African man. He was from Guinea, and like me had no idea what was happening. I understood bits of the French explanation, he understood bits of the Mandinka, and we found the replacement bus together.

Bush taxis, essentially. I spent three years using them in West Africa and that experience is why I am pretty much unfazed by any transit system here in the US.

I’m surprised you were asked to get off one. Where I was pretty much everyone took it as a challenge to see just how many people they could jam in to the damn things (:

In Morocco they're called Grands Taxis, and they are quite useful for getting around from village to village. In the morning people come to the public square and once enough passengers who want to travel along the same route have assembled you all pack into an old diesel Mercedes sedan and split the fare. I remember the driver buying all of his passengers lunch on one of my trips!

Oh we had plenty of those where I grew up in Brazil. Usually they were supposed to be hired only by neighborhood associations and to transport only those people that hired them, but effectively they were clandestine bus lines and would pickup anyone who hailed them. That, added to how immensely imprudent and dangerous their driving usually was caused them to be outlawed completely some 8-10 years ago.

I really appreciate how the NSW Australian Government is working on a solution to this.

They are currently running trial on-demand services, where a mini-van will come and pick you up after a request from an app[0].

I don't understand why the US cities are so adverse to setting up similar systems.

[0] https://transportnsw.info/travel-info/ways-to-get-around/on-...

Sound similar to ConXion who I've used in the past to avoid paying airport parking.

For the Sunshine Coast > Brisbane Airport trip they pick you up at your door in a smaller 12 seater to meet up near the highway with the larger coach for the hour or so run in. They run hourly trips each way.

There are very similar services operating in metro cities in India which can attributed to overcrowded public transportation during peak hours.

Shuttl is one which immediately comes to mind and seems to be doing good. They have a concept of you buying a fixed number of rides instead of paying per ride. The fixed package cost less and then you are locked into their service for a while / try it for a while.

It has solved the first mile problem but the last mile travel still remains to be solved.

Seattle subsidizes a similar program, including providing the vans ('vanpool'). I know this has been going for around 10 years, and I'm somewhat sure it's much older than that.


FWIW Citymapper offers a similar service in London. Essentially carpooling with more seats. Admittedly though, they don't cover such long distances.

Wasn't it profitable when Ford acquired? Isn't there a pretty reliable userbase? How did they mess it up?

I don't mean to be the conspiracy guy, but it matches the pattern of the streetcar thing: Buy car-obviating service, shut it down.

You're getting downvoted, but it's a valid question. What was Ford's real purpose for acquiring them in the first place?

to see if it was a viable business and they could make the numbers work (they couldn't), to show the board and investors they were staying on top of the latest trends in "micro mobility", and to acquire the software dev and startup strategy talent which it can now put towards other efforts such as self-driving or other ride hailing efforts

I think it's a fairly common pattern by now, startup gets bought out, and then shut down a few years later. There is probably strategic reasons for doing things like this.. Even if it does screw over the customers of the startup.

There's few common reasons: - Startups focus mostly on growth. Once you're part of a big company, they may look at your business and see that there is a lot of fraud (even if it wasn't intentional by the startup, but they just didn't focus at it) that makes it unsustainable - Lots of startups operate in space that just not profitable, but big companies buy them, out of fear of missing out. Then they realize, that there's really no money to be made there - Acqui-hiring - Startups often overrepresent what they can actually do or deliver

The Ford CEO famously/stupidly announced his plans to grow Ford into a data company on NPR [0]. So it’s likely he saw Chariot as a software acquisition.

0. https://threatpost.com/ford-eyes-use-of-customers-personal-d...

"How did they mess it up?"

All I know is once I was driving down Cesar Chavez in San Francisco and I looked over and there was a massive lot filled with Chariot commuter vans. It was the daytime on Saturday.

I thought dang they must be wasting a ton of money just having a whole fleet of commuter vans parked in a lot, unused simply because it was the weekend. I imagine this same mentality transferred to non-peak hours during the week as well.

It seems that there would be a lot of ways to put those vans to use during the weekend as well. I cannot imagine that was the main factor.

I understand your point but if true, doesn't it mean it's a proven business model with a ready market that can be tapped into by someone else?

The acquire and kill model should only really work when there's a barrier to entry that limits replacements.

This is purely my own speculation informed by some Clayton Christiansen, but it's possible that someone at Ford sees Ford as a transportation company, not a car company. So the job to be done is moving people and things around. Ford also sponsors the Ford GoBikes that you see all over San Francisco. This could be seen as competing with the Ford the car company. Or it's just part of the portfolio of products from Ford the transportation company.

That kind of thinking could help them mitigate disruptive pressure, especially in markets like SF where driving is pretty awful, but so is transit.

What you’re describing is actually Theodore Levitt Marketing Myopia. Probably overapplied. https://www.cnet.com/news/marketing-myopia-isnt/

Thanks for pointing this out. Seems right!

Ford just stopped the GoBike sponsorship, so I think they are moving out of alternative means of transportation.

Hopefully that doesn't get shut down anytime soon (it's actually owned by Lyft I think). That service is one of the few services I've seen over the past several years I've seen where I've gone "Wow, this is a great thing for the world"

Ford did buy Spin, an electric scooter startup, just two months ago.

I hope the founders did well. I remember meeting the founder and he’s a good guy!

I just wanted to chime in to thank Chariot for the service they provided.

In my experience, few startups literally make your entire day better. I’ve been using Chariot to commute across SF for about two years and it has given me more time at home with my wife and son, better ability to predict when I’ll arrive at work, and a way to use my commute as a quiet space for the reading I could never quite manage on a crowded bus.

So thanks to the whole team. Very sorry that the numbers didn’t quite work out at the end of the day, as it often turns out in the startup game.

Thanks for the kind words. The ability to improve people's daily lives, as you described, was a big reason a lot of us chose to work there and something we were hoping to see at a larger scale eventually. Today's news came as a shock to most of us.

Ford owned, and Ford are making major cutbacks this week. https://www.businessinsider.com/ford-buys-chariot-65-million...

Man. I feel bad for the employees. They probably thought getting bought by a big company like Ford meant they would stick around for a while.

Getting bought by a big company rarely means that the acquired employees are going to stick around for awhile.

Not necessarily true. A lot of acquisitions are 'acquihires' meaning they were bought just for their talent capital.

Acquihiring doesn't necessarily involve keeping everyone from the acquired company.

Nor does it mean keeping the company itself.

Not very surprising. There is a problem with trying to fund urban transit by selling it as a service for those who use it. urban transit is a service which benefits every member of the community it serves , both individuals and corporations, by reducing congestion. In most places with an efficient transit network, fare revenue is not the biggest source of funding.

This is shocking for americans who grow up in the post Reagan era, but some things are easier done by governments.

> In most places with an efficient transit network, fare revenue is not the biggest source of funding

It was eye opening to me to hear about train companies that heavily invest in land development and partnered with the cities to build places to go. In Japan they own department stores and actively participate in business development to grow whole areas, wherever they see opportunities.

I was so surprised to see a whole town just basically stamped out of the ground next to a new shinkansen station. Right up until I found out it was all built by the train company.

I used Chariot for about a year commuting from the Marina district of SF to Caltrain. It was basically an adult version of a soccer mom taking the neighborhood kids to practice in a mini van. It's definitely an improvement over taking MUNI...but its not any better than using UberPool. It wasn't 'fancy' by any means. You were just crammed into a sprinter van.

As far as I remember, UberPool either wasn't available or popular at the time Chariot started. Obviously the concept of Chariot wouldn't seem viable at all if you tried to do it in 2019.

I used Chariot daily for my commute when I lived in the outer richmond (24th ave). Its existential purpose was to ensure you would only travel with fellow commuters, and not the raving lunatics who rode the muni. It was a kind of bridge above the fray.

I recently watched the Anthony Bourdain episode where he goes to Nairobi and rides on a "matatu", which are essentially privately operated party buses for commuters. I thought that was actually a pretty neat idea and could definitely see a market for that.


matatu just means taxi or something like that (it actually comes from 'three' in Swahili because the conductors used to yell "give me three" at potential passengers). they are absolutely no fun to ride since the operators pack them to the brim with people and other cargo (animals too) and they wait until full to take off (so sometimes, for infrequently traveled routes you end up waiting hours). this is all to say nothing of being in terrible disrepair. here is the taxi park in Kampala http://photos.wikimapia.org/p/00/00/37/50/05_big.jpg. each minivan is a matatu.

source: lived in Uganda for 2 years. rode matatus countless times. almost died many times. shat myself exactly twice.

technically matatu's are mass transit privately owned minivan buses and not taxis, Nairobi as well as other Kenyan cities are well served by ride sharing services like Uber and Taxify which fill the taxi need. The "tatu" or three came about because they used to charge 3 cents when they started out way back before my time. There have been some changes in the sector to address some issues like safety but it's got a long way to go. Interesting innovations popped up around the space e.g. Google launched NFC transit payments, Bebapay https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BebaPay, in Nairobi a couple of years back but killed off the project (I was part of the local team when this took off)

haha I'm not saying an exact replica - I mean the general idea of a themed privately operated bus is interesting. obviously it would be subject to more regulatory scrutiny than over there. you could have a party bus vibe, or a meditation one, or a social one, etc etc.

no worries i didn't think you meant exact replica - just giving some context.

Uber launched a similar service in Africa last year..


These are called mikrolet or minibus in countries like Indonesia. Super cheap, super convenient. Haven’t seen a similar thing in the Western world.

In Mexico and most of Latin America they are called collectivos. They're a great way to get around.

Same thing exists in Barbados. Vans that circle the country and pick you up if you’re on the side of the road. Flat cash cost. Super convenient.

This is generally how the CEO of Lyft got the idea to create Lyft.

I'm assuming the ease and likely success of UberPool[1] was the straw that broke the camel's back. Even Waze has a similar offering [2].

Yet I'm not at all surprised they ran out of cash (I'm assuming) and had to shutter. I do feel bad for the folks (drivers and support type folks) who are now out of a job.

[1] https://www.uber.com/ride/uberpool/

[2] https://www.waze.com/carpool

My gf is using this everyday in London and it cuts her commute time by 30%. Godsend.. but she's alone in the bus 9 out of 10 times. We've dreaded this day but knew it would come. I'm about to tell her now. Crap!

Sad to hear this.

People talked a lot of shit about Chariot -- "Silicon Valley tech bros got funding and invented a bus route", blah blah blah -- but urban minibus routes are AWESOME when well-executed.

Seriously we were promised flying cars and we can't even get marshrutki.

I tried the service out for a little while, but it ultimately didn't make sense to me. Routes were too rigid, schedule not frequent enough, had to schedule trips in advance, and it cost as much or even more per ride than Uber Pool/Lyft Line.

I had a chariot driver cut me off on my bike while i was riding down second street and he was turning left onto second across my lane. He stopped once in my lane and I didn't have enough time to stop so I hit the side of his van, somewhat damaging my bike. He looked right at me and then drove away. I tried to contact chariot about this and got absolutely nowhere. Glad to see them go.

I had an encounter with one of their drivers tailgating me for ~1 mile until they finally sped past me and cut me off. I was going above the speed limit. Not sure if there were customers in the car, but I would hope not.

I have had frequent encounters with these drivers as well as the Bauer drivers.

Their vans are an absolute terror whenever I ride down Market Street on my commute. Muni clearly has higher driver hiring standards.

I'd not heard of Chariot before this. Was it widely used? It looked like Uber meets carpooling, or perhaps some sort of fancy work shuttle — and work shuttle companies open and close all the time, so I don't see what's newsworthy.

They don't state why they're closing down, so I'm a bit puzzled on this one.

It's probably on the front page because Chariot was part of YC W15, and later acquired by Ford.

Thanks, that fills things in.

Seems like such a great idea on paper. I've seen these parked in various spots in SF. Why do you think they failed? Too asset heavy? I am guessing the cost of vehicles and maintenance, parking spots, regulations etc. was too much? A similar service based on uber model might be more successful, where the company doesn't own the vehicles? Not sure how to provide reliable service that way, though. Perhaps a hybrid?

I think you answered your own question inadvertently! Uber has something called Express Pool, which is about the same service/cost but more convenient. And Uber Pool / Lyft Line are only slightly more expensive but deliver you directly door to door.

They were acquired by Ford. Doesn’t seem like a failure...even if shitting down after 2 years.

I meant failure in the larger context, not silicon valley failure :)

I don't think that's failure in any context...

in Africa, we've the 'taxi' system or aptly named Kombi's after the VW model. It picks you from say downtown and drops you by the stop sign or intersection to your house. Pretty much covers almost every neighborhood and street in a decent southern african city. Guess here in the west, it got complicated via apps. & these taxis run pretty frequently i.e maybe every 10 mins depending on capacity. I live in Austin and saw Chariot and bastard westernized appified version of the african taxi system.

In Russia we call it "marshrootka", like "routed taxi", missing link between taxi and bus. It is a large and demanded industry, cash-only and poorly regulated. Check out the variety of minivan models and conditions with single Google Images search: https://www.google.com/search?q=%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%88%D1%...

Will they be selling off their fleet?

That's my first question too. I wonder if there will be some good deals on the vans.

Probably off to auction where a lot of rental cars end up too. I’m sure if you keep an eye out on the various auto auction sites you’ll see some pop up.

I’ve seen them around NYC, downloaded the app and waited for them to expand their routes but they never did. I’m not sure why. Seems like a good idea - but I suppose it may have been a challenge to compete with the wide variety of services, including public transportation, that are available in the city.

I've seen a lot of startups that have success in SF struggle with NYC because they treat it like the same kind of city. Between the half-dozen mass transit services operating in and around the city, a robust network of express commuter buses (both public _and_ private), dollar vans and gypsy cabs, there is an extremely robust transit network here - even if unconventional at times, and maligned with delays at others. By comparison, despite having roughly comparable density within the city itself, transit in SF just sucks. I'm not surprised they never gained much traction in NYC. Via seems to fill the niche Chariot would be trying to occupy, if we're looking for a direct startupy comparison, and Via additionally operates outside of commute hours. NYC has some kind of "legacy" provider for most kinds of problems, everything from on-demand delivery of food and goods 24hrs to transportation to light laborers and most of the other trendy app platform services.

I thought it would be useful when the L train shuts down and had planned to use them then, but now that's not happening I suppose they lost that advantage (also amusingly lyft has spent a boat load advertising the shut down around williamsburg recently).

I have such a strong feeling of deja vu right now - didn't they shut down once before already, and sell off their fleet? Is this their second shutdown?

I think you are thinking of Leap[1], one that offered "luxury" buses, barista made coffee on bus etc.


You're thinking of the luxury bus services, whose name I forgot, even though I knew the founder. I believe that was SF-only.

I know some people are very critical. I'm a big transit enthusiast but I still see how some work routes are long to walk, but not well served via transit, i.e. NoPa to Brannan St (Airbnb, Pinterest). Friends that were faced with trickier public transit options didn't seem enticed by Chariot. They seem to settle on biking/scootering, long walk, or choosing to take rideshare everyday.

This service was a godsend when I lived there, due to how abysmal Muni was. Sorry to hear it didn't work out for them.

I've been using it daily here in Austin. Sad to see it go. :(

Good riddance; my exposure to Chariot was mostly of them blocking the Golden Gate Transit commuter bus pickup zones.

For the people that used this and are upset about Chariot shutting down, you should give Waze Carpool a try.

Can you share some experience on how you’ve used Waze Carpool, or how the economics work? I’ve wondered about it but not tried it out.

It's essentially a simplified Uber/Lyft app where I put in my home/work address and a window of time when I make my commute. Afterwards, I see a list of people who are on my route. Then, I can offer someone a ride or request a ride.

Right now Google is subsidizing rides so I think it's $2 a trip. Otherwise it's less than a dollar a mile, whatever the IRS sets the gas write-off as.

It's a shame to say goodbye to something that is quite synonymous with San Francisco life. From the comments a lot of people don't "get it" and then think that this is the reason it failed. I'm sure it's a decision based on the complexities of scaling and working with each city and county to make a truly successful business that they ran into too many problems.

Not all businesses need to grow to huge heights to not be considered successful. It's a shame they can't continue to operate in the areas that it works well in (such as here in SF). Scoot have had a hard time growing, but are as successful as ever in SF, so that should be seen as a success in itself. We now have very lofty expectations for businesses either Blitzscaling [1] or dying, but surely it doesn't need to be that binary.

Clearly private solutions to commuting need to exist, people are not satisfied with the public transit in most cities. In a capitalist country, the markets will reward those who succeed. Lyft/Uber are helping somewhat, but you can point to as many articles [2] showing how over congested cities become because of them (even with pooling), which take up much more road space than buses. Let's hope someone else gives this another shot, and we don't shoot them down if they don't become a unicorn.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Blitzscaling-Lightning-Fast-Building-... [2] https://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/technology/ct-uber-ly...

We're beginning to feel the crunch of car culture in the US, and not everyone is excited at the prospect of footing the bill to overhaul infrastructure and transportation systems at the public level.

> In a capitalist country, the markets will reward those who succeed.

This may be true, but markets will favor a solution that involves maintaining control of the system in order to generate profit.

If we want our transportation system to rival that of Europe's, it won't be done through market competition for transportation services/technology. Why? Because services like ridesharing don't incentivize the development of solid public-use transportation infrastructure. They represent the next revolution of US car culture, which isn't going to benefit as many people directly once cars become unaffordable for too many Americans, a trend that is already being observed[0].

Once this happens, we're going to rely on cars more than ever because we won't have a viable alternative. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that idea.

[0]: http://fortune.com/2017/06/28/car-buy-price/

Not true. The best train systems in the world are private businesses. The problem is having to compete with the government. The NYC subway used to be two private systems and the government put them out of business and now it's death by politics

A business focused on transit could otherwise profit and maintain for less cost than government fails to do.

PSA: Via Pass is a great alternative in NYC and works with commuter benefits too

great name. Wonder how much they plan to sell it for.

Probably because there is absolutely NOTHING on their homepage or about page that describes what their service is in a simple manner. Their tag is "Mass Transit Reinvented"... great!!! How exactly are you doing that in layman's terms.

Pls stop trying to re-invent public transit.

Please, keep trying to re-invent public transit if you can come up with something better.

Public transit sucks. In a lot of cases if I am with a friend I can get an Uber pool or express for the same price as public transportation. I might have to pay a small premium of 50 cents at times but the convenience is far better, and no transfers. Hell I can even use commuter benefits.

A successful company could play a part in revitalizing the public’s interest in having good transit.

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