Ford Hopes Its Chariot Vans Can Put a Dent in NYC's Traffic Problems


Ford announced on Thursday that Chariot, its passenger van-based ride-sharing service, would expand to New York City in August. The goal is to solve some of the first- and last-mile problems in Manhattan and Brooklyn that are underserved by traditional transit routes.

The company says about 60 14-seat vans will ferry riders along designated routes for a flat $4 fee per ride.

Here’s how Chariot works: The service is run through a mobile app, where riders can book a seat in one of the vans at a certain time. The app allows users to suggest an idea for a new route, and if enough other users sign on, Chariot will dispatch its box vans to area. It takes 50 users to start a new route, a company spokesperson tells Inverse. In New York City, Ford says the in-app map will show users routes being crowdsourced, to let them join in on a burgeoning route.

There are other van-based ride-sharing services in the city already — Via has a similar business model — but Ford thinks it can make a dent in the growing gridlock in the city. And the news couldn’t come any sooner for the city where the subway is a mess and a growing population keeps pushing up ridership levels. On average, 5.6 million rides were taken on the subways each weekday in 2016 in New York City, up from 5.2 million in 2011. Annually, some 1.7 billion rides are taken each year.

Chariot’s CEO Ali Vahabzadeh, a native New Yorker who lives in San Francisco and says he’s never owned a car in his life, told reporters at the launch event that Chariot sees a huge opportunity in NYC. On Thursday, Chariots scurried around the city with Ford executives to announce the news.

“We’re in New York because despite all the success that public transit has had in its history, there’s just too many people trying to use the trains and the buses and the ferries,” Vahabzadeh said. “Chariot comes just in the nick of time where we can augment and supplement mass transit.”

A Chariot in Times Square, which, ironically, isn't part of any of the company's first two routes through the city. Ford

Chariot began as a start-up in 2014 in San Francisco, was acquired by Ford in September 2016 for $65 million, and then expanded to Austin in January and Seattle in June. There are at least three more cities to come, as Ford announced in January it would add Chariot service to six cities in 2017. Job posting indicate that London, Toronto, and Los Angeles could be next.

Chariot riders can subsidize fares with traditional commuter benefits through their jobs (basically letting them use pre-tax earnings to buy passes). It’ll also offer an executive charter service so companies can hire chariots for specific, designated shuttle routes for their employees.

The first two areas will be on the East side of Manhattan and from the Dumbo area of Brooklyn along the western edge of the borough along the bank of the East River into Greenpoint. Ford hasn’t announced the exact date in August when Chariot will begin service, but we’ll update this story when it is revealed.

The two Ford Chariot commuter van routes in New York City.

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