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Ford launches Chariot transit service in New York


Ford is gearing up to launch a unique manufacturer-backed public transport service, Chariot, which goes into service in New York, USA, later this month.

Using long wheelbase Ford Transit minibuses, Chariot offers commuters, some of whom live in ‘transit deserts’ – areas that are not within walking distance of public transportation – a new way of getting from A to B.

During typical commuting times, Chariot shuttles will travel to busy areas where people work, then bring them back at the end of the day. Each Chariot comfortably accommodates more than a dozen people and guarantees seats for every passenger.

The initiative came about by Ford using crowdsourcing – information gathered from the general public – to identify areas of high population density where public transport services were inefficient.

“Our mission at Chariot is to provide reliable, safe and affordable transportation for as many people as possible,” said Chariot CEO Ali Vahabzadeh. “We want to connect people more easily to where they want to go – whether they need help making it to a transit hub or live in an area underserved by public transportation.”

The New York service is launching with two pre-planned services in Manhattan and Brooklyn, at a flat rate of US $4 per trip. That’s about about $1.25 more than a single one-way trip on a New York City subway or bus. People can create additional service areas through crowdsourcing. By autumn, Chariot plans to have 60 vehicles operating in New York City by mid-autumn.

A Chariot map will display service areas being crowdsourced – giving commuters the chance to choose and contribute to these potential service areas.

Users can even create a custom route for areas they feel would benefit from Chariot, then share their proposal with friends, family and neighbours who may be taking similar commutes. Once enough riders sign up to support and fund a proposed route, as many Chariots as needed will be dispatched to service the area.

Ford’s own Global Data, Insights and Analytics team is supplementing Chariot’s planning. The group helps Chariot identify potential routes using advanced optimization algorithms based on commuter demand and behaviour, as well as traffic data and existing infrastructure.

Using Chariot is easy. Riders check an app to find commuter routes near them, then reserve a guaranteed seat as they head toward their assigned Chariot.

“We know how important it is for everyone to be able to get around effectively – especially in densely populated places like New York,” said Jessica Robinson, director, Ford City Solutions. “Chariot is one way we’re trying to help cities accommodate their residents and ensure people aren’t sacrificing their needs as a result of limited mobility options.”

The service can also be used to supplement public transit at peak commuting times, keeping large groups of people moving without the need for single-occupancy vehicles. According to a study conducted by KPMG, every Chariot in operation can remove about 10 cars from roads.

In addition to commuter service, Chariot is launching enterprise and charter services in New York City. Enterprise is available for companies that would like to provide shared commutes for their employees, while charters allow users to directly book a private 14-passenger Chariot for day trips or events.

Ford acquired the San Francisco-based Chariot startup in 2016 for what was reported to be US$65 million. Today, in addition to San Francisco, Chariot also operates in two other U.S. cities, Austin and Seattle. I watch with interest how this part of Ford’s overall effort to stay relevant in changing transportation landscape progresses.