Ford to launch Chariot shuttles in NYC

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. will expand its Chariot shuttle service to New York City in August as the company looks to offer mobility solutions to commuters in “transit deserts.”

The shuttles can fit 12 people and in New York, Ford hopes the vehicles will fill in gap areas without public transportation within walking distance of homes and workplaces.

“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.”

Patrons in Manhattan and Brooklyn can use the shuttles for $4 a ride. Ford hopes to have 60 vehicles operating by the fall. New York riders will also be able to contribute to a Chariot map in which they can create custom routes they feel Chariot should expand to the service area.

If riders get enough other users to support the proposed route, Chariots will be dispatched. Ford is using its Global Data, Insights and Analytics team — part of which is headquartered in Dearborn — to support that part of the expansion.

“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 of Ford City Solutions, in a release. “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.”

It’s the third expansion since Ford acquired Chariot in September 2016 under the Ford Smart Mobility arm. In October, the shuttle service launched in Austin, Texas. Last month, Chariot started service in Seattle. Former CEO Mark Fields said when Ford purchased the service that he intended to expand it to five new markets, some outside the U.S.

Chariot is part of a transportation ecosystem that Executive Chairman Bill Ford and company leadership hope to create. The shuttles would work in tandem with connected vehicles, autonomous cars, electric vehicles, ride hailing services, bike-sharing and existing infrastructure including rails and buses.

Chariot started in San Francisco in 2014, operating 100 Ford Transit vans along 28 routes. The company crowd-sources its routes based on ride demand, and eventually will use real-time data and algorithms to determine the most efficient routes.

The shuttle service has grown since Ford’s investment to operate 200 vehicles in San Francisco, and 50 in Austin. The company is focusing on charter services in Seattle at first, a spokesperson said Thursday.

Ford has plans to launch in four other markets this year, but did not provide details on those plans Thursday.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau