Date
22 January 2017
Chariot offers rides along fixed or flexible routes at a cost that is just a little more than public transport but far cheaper than taxi rides. Photo: Chariot/Facebook
Chariot offers rides along fixed or flexible routes at a cost that is just a little more than public transport but far cheaper than taxi rides. Photo: Chariot/Facebook

Microtransit takes off as commuters embrace ‘Uber for buses’

If there’s Uber for taxis, there’s microtransit for buses.

The service involves private vans and buses which offer rides along fixed or flexible routes at a cost that is just a little more than public transport but far cheaper than taxi rides.

Called microtransit, the concept has spread to various parts of the United States and Latin America and as far as Tel Aviv and Tanzania, according to BBC News.

It is quite popular in San Francisco, the birthplace of the taxi-hailing firm Uber.

One successful operator of the service is Chariot, which launched in April last year and now operates more than 50 small buses along seven routes in the city during weekdays.

It’s the brainchild of financier Ali Vahabzadeh, 38, who moved from New York City to San Francisco in 2010 without a car.

As a daily commuter, he once tried riding Muni, the bus and streetcar system run by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, but found them to be too crowded, so he opted for the bike.

“I said to myself, all people have is a choice between a two dollar public transit ride and a US$25 Uber Surge or Lyft Prime Time ride and nothing in between,” he told the BBC.

“I said, let’s see what happens if I throw a few vans on the street and cut people’s commuting time in half and give them a fast, safe and affordable experience, and so we did that, and it’s been up, up and away since then.”

Chariot started with four buses plying a single, well-travelled route, but now it has branched out to many other corridors through crowdfunding.

Commuters propose new routes and vote for them the company’s website. Buses roll off only after at least 60 people have purchased their first passes.

Chariot plans to launch more routes when it expands into the East Bay and down to Silicon Valley this year, and then into a second and possibly third market next year, the BBC said.

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