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Ford’s on-demand bus service Chariot expands to Seattle

Ford’s on-demand bus service Chariot expands to Seattle


The automaker’s embrace of ‘smart mobility’ rolls on

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Chariot, the on-demand shuttle startup owned by Ford, is bringing its app-based, crowdsourced transit service to the traffic-choked streets of Seattle.

Chariot, which has been operating in San Francisco since 2014, is part of a recent trend of bus startups that use algorithms to develop transit routes based on user demand. Using the app, customers can book a seat in one of the company’s blue-and-white shuttle vans for around $4 a trip. It’s a cheaper but less convenient alternative to ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. The company sold to Ford in 2016 for $65 million; a month later it expanded to Austin.

Chariot will be a B2B service at the outset

But the new transportation option won’t be immediately available to all Seattle residents: Ford says it’s launching Chariot as an “enterprise commuter shuttle service, which serves companies wanting to provide transportation solutions to their employees.” In other words, Chariot will be a B2B service at the outset, with companies paying for their employees’ transportation to and from their homes, transit hubs, and the office. A spokesperson said the service would be expanded to other customers at a later date. The news of Chariot’s launch in Seattle was first reported by GeekWire.

“Chariot will offer Seattle residents an additional option for commuting to work,” John Kwant, vice president of Ford’s city project, writes on Medium. “Its shuttles can hold significantly more commuters than a typical single-passenger vehicle, with the same physical and carbon footprint, and it’s a fast, reliable and affordable transportation alternative. Going forward, we’d like to see Chariot become available to a larger population of commuters.”

“a fast, reliable and affordable transportation alternative”

During the Detroit Auto Show in January, Ford said it planned to expand Chariot to eight new markets in 2017, including one outside the US. But the company has struggled to embrace its new rebranded image as a mobility-focused, corporately nimble tech startup. Bridj, another on-demand bus service supported by Ford, went belly-up in May after failing to close a deal with an unnamed car company.

The 114-year-old automaker recently replaced its CEO of three years, Mark Fields, with Jim Hackett, who most recently ran the company's autonomous vehicle subsidiary known as Ford Smart Mobility. Even though Ford made strides to embrace future-focused projects like self-driving cars and on-demand mobility, its efforts went unrewarded on Wall Street. The company’s stock dropped 40 percent during Fields’ tenure.