Ford’s on-demand bus service Chariot is going out of business

Chariot, the microtransit service owned by Ford, is going out of business. According to a companywide email obtained by the San Francisco Examiner, the on-demand bus service will cease operation February 1st. A spokesperson for the company confirmed the news to The Verge.

Dan Grossman, CEO of Chariot, said in a statement:

In today’s mobility landscape, the wants and needs of customers and cities are changing rapidly. As those changes continue, it has become clear that the mobility services delivered by Chariot over the past five years will not be a sustainable solution going forward. We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause Chariot’s riders and our enterprise customers. We are committed to ensuring our customers are aware of the decision and have time to make alternative transportation arrangements.

Chariot first launched in San Francisco in 2014 as part of a spate of bus startups that used algorithms to develop transit routes based on user demand. Using the app, customers could book a seat in one of the company’s blue-and-white shuttle vans for around $4 a trip. It was billed as a cheaper, if slightly less convenient, alternative to ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. The company sold to Ford in 2016 for $65 million, after which it expanded into new markets such as Austin, Texas, New York City, and the UK.

In 2017, Chariot featured prominently in Ford’s presentations at both CES and the Detroit Auto Show. Then-CEO Mark Fields said Ford would increasingly address the transportation needs of customers in a variety of ways, and that Chariot was a key component of putting that strategy into practice.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

According to the Examiner, Chariot employed around 385 people in San Francisco, and about 625 employees throughout the US. The company has operations in Austin, Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles, among other cities.

But private microtransit was never an easy sell, especially with the ubiquity of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. And Chariot’s closure is the latest in a string of failures. Bridj, another on-demand bus service supported by Ford, went belly up in May 2017 after failing to close a deal with an unnamed car company.

Chariot had been struggling for a while, especially in New York City, according to data viewed by Streetsblog. Many of the vans, it seemed, were driving around mostly empty:

Even on its best-performing weeks, Chariot’s fleet of 25 or so vans only serves around 1,000 riders total, or about nine riders per vehicle per day. The overall average is much lower — just five riders per vehicle per day. The service has routes, including a Greenpoint-DUMBO run and a Williamsburg-Midtown route.

Ford remains bullish about its mobility investments. (A spokesperson for the automaker declined comment.) Last month, the company acquired Spin, an electric scooter sharing service.

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