Ford-owned shuttle service Chariot confirms Seattle expansion, will focus on enterprises first

Chariot has arrived in Seattle. (Chariot Photo)

Ford-owned shuttle company Chariot confirmed plans this morning to expand its service to Seattle, adding another company to the mix of transit providers trying to help solve the city’s traffic woes.

GeekWire first reported on Chariot’s Seattle plans earlier this month when a reader spotted the vans near Seattle Center.

Chariot offers several different services, but a spokesperson for the company told GeekWire this morning that the company plans to launch “enterprise service.” Companies will be able to set up and fund routes between employees’ homes, major transit hubs and the office.

The spokesperson said that the company is “actively having conversations with companies and organizations in the area.”

In addition to the enterprise service, Chariot offers a public transit-like option that is open to individuals and a charter option for special occasions. Chariot crowdsources route decisions for the public service, and the company will eventually invite commuters to request routes.

Chariot’s public option functions more like a bus rather than an on-demand service like Uber. In San Francisco, the company has numerous set routes with designated stops throughout the city. Riders download an app and use it to reserve a spot on a Chariot. A route map displays all the various routes in San Francisco, and it also displays progress for each individual Chariot.

Riders can buy passes for a single ride on the app or get monthly passes. Single rides in San Francisco vary from $3.80 for off-peak rides to $5 during heavy commuting periods.

The various public and private Chariot existing and planned lines in downtown San Francisco. (Screenshot Via Chariot)

The idea of a private shuttle that’s a bit more expensive than a public bus — but perhaps more convenient and comfortable — isn’t a novel business idea. Numerous startups, including some in Seattle, have attempted to make it a viable service and some of the biggest companies employ their own fleets of buses to drive employees to work.

Microsoft’s Connector busses are well-known throughout the area, and Amazon launched a pilot shuttle program for its employees last year. Uber and Lyft each have carpooling options, and just this week, Lyft launched a test of its own shuttle service in San Francisco and Chicago.

On its website, Chariot hints at the challenge of this market. In job postings, the company says it aims to be the “world’s best — and first profitable — commuting option in the next three years.”

Chariot was founded in 2014 and raised a $3 million seed round after emerging from Y Combinator in 2015. The company sold to Ford in September 2016 for $65 million. A month later it expanded to Austin.

The company said this year it plans to expand to eight new cities, including one outside the U.S.

Chariot’s drivers are full-time employees of the company with benefits like health insurance, rather than independent contractors. Other transportation tech companies tend to favor the independent contractor model.