A better solution would be the train. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) serves many counties and cities, but does not go that far south.
Caltrain serves both San Francisco and Redwood City quite well; however, the nearest station is miles from the Marina district, and depending on destination, would require a transfer on the other end as well.
Of course, I'm sure Chariot involved multiple stops as well, but presumably most riders took it every day, so it was a route that was tailored to the riders of that van, rather than a generic public transit service that might have inconveniently timed transfers, too many stops, or other issues.
EDIT: Actually, it looks like I am incorrect. SamTrans (San Mateo County) actually does go from Redwood City to San Francisco by bus, at least on the 397 and 398 routes, but only midday and it will take almost 2 hours, as it's entirely on surface streets for those ~30 miles (and the terminus on either end is not particularly more likely to be more convenient than the much faster train)
Thus, the train lines stop at the borders of these two municipalities, and there are two other train systems that cover the missing area.
(BART, Amtrak, and Caltrain.)
And they opted out because they would have had to pay in fully with no service for years, followed by inferior service forever (they were to be cash cows).
Samtrans buses does the entire thing in one bus. it will get you into the city and back. and it’ll be 4+ hours a day commute. but the buses do run a lot of hours. chariot could probably do this in an hour each way, which would be faster than caltrain
this is pretty on par with other countries and cities. only a handful of (larger) cities have city wide metro coverage. smaller cities have better bus service. biking is huge in cities this size, including, san francisco for this reason. or ride one of the new hotness scooter apps.
I merely pointed out that the train would be preferable to the bus, and outlined the 2 trains, one of which is not an option.
This was with being one of the last stops before SF and having a good onramp to get onto the freeway. I tried taking it from the east oakland hills when I lived there and it was completely unpalatable.
I ride the F, which is a "normal" bus, but it's 10x better than BART for comfort, temperature, smell, etc. The trip takes me 40-50 minutes on a normal day.
- Timeliness - Busses and trains reliability are a joke compared to developed countries
- Cleanliness - Due to an unmitigated homeless problem, the busses and trains operate as "day shelters"
- Organization - There are dozens of different transit operators for what is one major metro region. Schedules are poorly synced, and even with a unified payment card you still have to buy different passes for multiple agencies
- Reliability - The union bullies the city around, and there is no accountability.
A real disruptive solution for humanity - but a hard one to monetize - would be to figure out why cities with good public transit / shared transit infrastructure managed to build them (off the top of my head, Tokyo, NYC-of-the-past, parts of China, Chicago, etc.) and figure out how to replicate it elsewhere.
new cities: built dense for walking and public transit because private car ownership isn't that common in China
20th century USA cities: built for cars. Sprawl makes public transit too expensive because it requires many lines with low ridership. Wide roads, long distances, and cars flying around everywhere makes walking scary. Driving becomes the only attractive mode of transportation.
The problem is deeply embedded in the urban layout and the culture. It will take decades of destruction & rebuilding, plus a huge cultural shift, before USA cities can be fixed.
Even transit wastelands like LA had an actual urban core (that they're now rebuilding), as well as a relatively extensive network of streetcars.
Check the map of Pacific Electric Railway Company, and you can see a railway running on the beach from Hermosa Beach up to Santa Monica. The famous Venice Beach Bike Path was originally what the Pacific Electric Railway Company rail used to be. Can you imagine light rails ON the beach in SoCal?
All the rails were torn up after lobbying by oil/tire companies. :(
The first crack in my belief was a comment by a former Baltimore fire chief (I think) who had worked as a streetcar and bus driver earlier. He talked about how scary it was to operate a streetcar with its very poor braking, and how during the transition period every operator was jumping at the chance to become a bus driver.
I'm sure there's a grain of truth in there, about lobbying - but was it really the decisive factor? Could Amazon lobby and get Ebay shut down? Did landline phones fade away because of lobbying from the cellular industry?
Streetcars were a very cool idea but unfortunately motor buses were better in every objective way.
It's not a story, it's a goddamn historical fact.
>I'm sure there's a grain of truth in there, about lobbying - but was it really the decisive factor?
Of course not just lobbying, but also immense loads of corruption and monopoly practices.
>Streetcars were a very cool idea but unfortunately motor buses were better in every objective way.
Yeah, that's why streetcars in Europe were all replaced by buses just like the were in the US, and nobody builds "light rail" (read: streetcar systems) anymore anywhere.
Oh wait, exactly the opposite is true, because, well, street cars work, and.
The real reason you don't see streetcars is that the benefits of a public transit system are externalities, and so they must be funded by the government.
Streetcars were never simply not funded by the government in the way highways are funded -- because of things like  -- and so they were destroyed by companies that made  happen.
> The real reason you don't see streetcars is that the benefits of a public transit system are externalities, and so they must be funded by the government.
I don't follow your logic here. Seems like two different issues. First, should transit be subsidized based on positive externalities. Second, which technology will best deliver that transit. Are these issues coupled somehow? I think they are independent.
In the US, we often have government-operated buses that are heavily subsidized. If streetcars were a better option, the transportation authority could use them.Whether subsidized or not, whether public or private, you presumably have a decision maker looking to deliver transit of a certain grade at the lowest cost.
(This page gives a sense of the subsidy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farebox_recovery_ratio)
So if all the historical rails and overhead wires were still intact, I'm guessing that today's transit authorities would make the same decision as the transit companies did back in the day, which is switch over to motor buses and either dismantle or neglect the expensive infrastructure.
Of course there would be a few exceptions; very heavily used routes, and places where non-economic reasons would intervene.
Now the wikipedia page you linked presents a much more nuanced view than what you advocated. In fact it contains a lot to support my skepticism, particularly under "Other Factors" and "Counterarguments". For instance:
> "GM Killed the Red cars in Los Angeles". Pacific Electric Railway (which operated the 'red cars') was hemorrhaging routes as traffic congestion worsened with growing car ownership levels after the end of World War II.
And most tellingly:
> GM's alleged conspiracy extended to only about 10% of American transit systems
So the other 90% shut down the street car lines without any arm twisting from GM. Sounds like all system operators saw the same economic picture.
I'm not wedded to my theory (change driven by evolving technology) but I'm even more skeptical of your theory (change driven by conspiracy).
Streetcar companies were bought up by GM proxy companies and dismantled. Lobbying had nothing to do with it.
The goal was to destroy neighborhoods--mostly lower socio-economic areas in order to displace the undesirable people away from land that was beginning to appreciate in value.
Freeways are located in very specific spots--close enough to the rich areas to be useful but far enough into the poor areas in order to minimize cost/maximize displacement.
Nonetheless, mass transit in SF is still pretty crappy. Muni is notoriously unreliable and slow (it's often faster to jog than take Muni -- to say nothing of biking).
As someone who lived in Palo Alto for almost a year without a car... there is so much to be desired for public transit. Outside of the few blocks near University, it quickly becomes a walking wasteland. My bike, on the other-hand, was a divine gift from the heaven and, when combined with CalTrain, enabled a fairly large world-bubble.
- years of racism (then: buses are only for white people. now: buses are only for poor people of color, and thus should not be funded.)
- a history of destruction happening primarily in neighbourhoods of ethnic minorities (e.g. the razing of SoMa in the 80s)
We'll have self driving cars long before we could restructure many of our cities to have effective public transit.
Edit: One thing they could fix, easily; unified, visitor accessible, payment system. And more realtime bus information. Those are simple things that they could borrow off any decent-sized European city.
Further edit: looks like the Clipper card is easier to get than I thought. Googled before I went, but must have gotten outdated information.
These do exist: purchasing fares via the Muni app is pretty straightforward and services like nextmuni.com and similar apps can tell you when the next bus is coming.
Frequency is definitely subpar though. When I first came to SF, I was supposed to meet with a job interviewer for dinner in a place at mission. The subway train took 30 minutes to show up!
I'm not sure how most visitors to the bay get in but two desks at SFO and OAK across from baggage claim seem like a good start to implement the same kind of solution.
> In Japan, being in the railway business means being in the real estate business, explained Egon Terplan, SPUR’s regional planning director, at Thursday afternoon’s panel discussion about what the Bay Area can learn from Japanese transit station area development. “They are able to capture the value of the train stations they are building and beyond. One third of the revenue is from retail, services, hotels.”
> That’s because rather than contracting out the business opportunities on the real estate around their stations, they own it all–everything from department stores to vending machines on the platforms. That has turned Japan’s six passenger railway companies–Hokkaido Railway Company, East Japan Railway Company, Central Japan Railway Company, West Japan Railway Company, Shikoku Railway Company, and Kyushu Railway Company–into hugely profitable corporations.
> “These are companies listed on the stock exchange; they make money,” said Terplan. They also, together, carry nearly a third of the world’s railway passengers.
> In Japan, the profit motive of real estate, retail, and office space–in addition to the trains–becomes a bit of a feedback loop. The Japanese railway companies want to maximize the value they derive from space around the stations. So transit oriented development isn’t just about housing. In Japan, it includes department stores, office buildings, shops, and hotels, and housing on different levels directly above and below the stations.
Regulation is a serious problem in "free market" USA. Subway construction is 7x the cost in NYC than Paris because of land and labor regulations. It's out of control, nobody cares because most just blame some other thing like funding being insufficient when that's not really the case. Instead they'll try to get more from the gas tax instead of fixing the root problem.
I've visited Silicon Valley and SF, and I remember it as being really pedestrian-unfriendly. A friend of mine has a story about visiting San Jose without a car, and not being able to go to a bookstore because, while the map showed it as being a block away and he could clearly see it, there was no way to reach it on foot from where he was.
To some extent these cities seemed walkable, but in practice everyone has a car, and most endeavours have you end up on the highway. Everyone seems to complain about either traffic or about the awfulness of BART, but maybe that's HN.
I did love SF itself, though it seems to be in a similar situation as NYC, nestled deep within this huge web of urban sprawl that you have to punch through in order to get out into the wilderness.
There are also great cities with walkable downtowns often right next to a train station. You can choose to live close to these areas and enjoy walkability, or live a bit further and drive everywhere.
There are definitely choices
There's cases where Car2Go/etc. are useful out this way, but generally I don't use a car often (having lived in Seattle and Vancouver BC since coming to the PNW).
Edit: I should clarify. You can't just plop down anywhere - if you live up at the top of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, you're gonna have a rougher commute to downtown than someone who lives in, say, Columbia City near the light rail line. Much like Chicago or NYC, your proximity to high-frequency transit corridors will greatly decrease your stress levels.
This place is not Dallas.
Currently residing in NYC and pretty unhappy about the difficulty of getting out in nature. My ideal town is on the water; not too big; good public transportation; flat enough for biking; forests, mountains and lakes easily reachable by bike/walking/subway; dense urban core for apartment living or small house; decent downtown with some brand name shopping; temperate climate. Plus points for abundant access to public EV charges.
My home town is Oslo, Norway, which ticks all the boxes except the climate one, which always bugged me when I was living there. The lack of daylight and sun is something of a dealbreaker.
Curious what the situation is elsewhere. I've heard good things about Denver and Raleigh, for example, though those aren't so temperate either.
As to your first question, you can live without a car anywhere if you choose to live near work and other frequent destinations.
Some people just don't want to mix with "normal" people and a lot of San Franciscans wish they would fucking leave.
Few NIMBYs and a less-car-focused mentality which is typical of the US.
In Seattle specifically, the city taxes businesses who don't provide transit passes for their employees. It varies from the urban core to the further flung parts of town, but if you buy every employee a transit pass, its often equal cost or cheaper than the tax you pay per employee.
Bikers, people walking to work & those who buy passes elsewhere have to regularly recertify they aren't driving, which is a form that can be a tad annoying to fill out.
Chariot had a lot of smaller busses, like the size of those airport parking lot shuttles.
Personally, I'm really surprised at this. Chariot seemed to have a lot of corporate accounts (for things like shuttles to/from CalTrain to Company X), that I would have guessed they could charge a premium for.
But the homeless sleeping on the bus for $6/night is well documented: https://www.mercurynews.com/2013/10/31/homeless-turn-overnig...
But like any mass transit system it needs a critical mass to break even. And they faced heavily subsidized competition on both sides. (Buses subsidized by taxpayers, Uber/Lyft subsidized by VC.)
Works really well.
One is more efficient if you have a large number of people going to the same place at the same time, the other is more efficient if a lot of people need to go to different places.
Also, San Francisco and Redwood city are in different counties with different politics, private enterprise is sometimes faster at filling gaps in transit than public government, especially in the short term.
When I visited, these were chaotic, but by some means the passengers would get to the destination. I spent one journey with my head between my knees, since the whole floor of the bus was loaded with sacks of grain and sugar women had bought at the market. Another journey, I was wedged amongst about 20 children — there is always room for an additional child on a car rapide. The windows were kept closed (I have no idea why), it was about 40° inside.
I particularly remember being asked to get off the bus, but for the first time, there was also a confused African man. He was from Guinea, and like me had no idea what was happening. I understood bits of the French explanation, he understood bits of the Mandinka, and we found the replacement bus together.
I’m surprised you were asked to get off one. Where I was pretty much everyone took it as a challenge to see just how many people they could jam in to the damn things (:
They are currently running trial on-demand services, where a mini-van will come and pick you up after a request from an app.
I don't understand why the US cities are so adverse to setting up similar systems.
For the Sunshine Coast > Brisbane Airport trip they pick you up at your door in a smaller 12 seater to meet up near the highway with the larger coach for the hour or so run in. They run hourly trips each way.
Shuttl is one which immediately comes to mind and seems to be doing good. They have a concept of you buying a fixed number of rides instead of paying per ride. The fixed package cost less and then you are locked into their service for a while / try it for a while.
It has solved the first mile problem but the last mile travel still remains to be solved.
I don't mean to be the conspiracy guy, but it matches the pattern of the streetcar thing: Buy car-obviating service, shut it down.
All I know is once I was driving down Cesar Chavez in San Francisco and I looked over and there was a massive lot filled with Chariot commuter vans. It was the daytime on Saturday.
I thought dang they must be wasting a ton of money just having a whole fleet of commuter vans parked in a lot, unused simply because it was the weekend. I imagine this same mentality transferred to non-peak hours during the week as well.
The acquire and kill model should only really work when there's a barrier to entry that limits replacements.
That kind of thinking could help them mitigate disruptive pressure, especially in markets like SF where driving is pretty awful, but so is transit.
In my experience, few startups literally make your entire day better. I’ve been using Chariot to commute across SF for about two years and it has given me more time at home with my wife and son, better ability to predict when I’ll arrive at work, and a way to use my commute as a quiet space for the reading I could never quite manage on a crowded bus.
So thanks to the whole team. Very sorry that the numbers didn’t quite work out at the end of the day, as it often turns out in the startup game.
This is shocking for americans who grow up in the post Reagan era, but some things are easier done by governments.
It was eye opening to me to hear about train companies that heavily invest in land development and partnered with the cities to build places to go. In Japan they own department stores and actively participate in business development to grow whole areas, wherever they see opportunities.
As far as I remember, UberPool either wasn't available or popular at the time Chariot started. Obviously the concept of Chariot wouldn't seem viable at all if you tried to do it in 2019.
source: lived in Uganda for 2 years. rode matatus countless times. almost died many times. shat myself exactly twice.
Yet I'm not at all surprised they ran out of cash (I'm assuming) and had to shutter. I do feel bad for the folks (drivers and support type folks) who are now out of a job.
People talked a lot of shit about Chariot -- "Silicon Valley tech bros got funding and invented a bus route", blah blah blah -- but urban minibus routes are AWESOME when well-executed.
Seriously we were promised flying cars and we can't even get marshrutki.
They don't state why they're closing down, so I'm a bit puzzled on this one.
Right now Google is subsidizing rides so I think it's $2 a trip. Otherwise it's less than a dollar a mile, whatever the IRS sets the gas write-off as.
Not all businesses need to grow to huge heights to not be considered successful. It's a shame they can't continue to operate in the areas that it works well in (such as here in SF). Scoot have had a hard time growing, but are as successful as ever in SF, so that should be seen as a success in itself. We now have very lofty expectations for businesses either Blitzscaling  or dying, but surely it doesn't need to be that binary.
Clearly private solutions to commuting need to exist, people are not satisfied with the public transit in most cities. In a capitalist country, the markets will reward those who succeed. Lyft/Uber are helping somewhat, but you can point to as many articles  showing how over congested cities become because of them (even with pooling), which take up much more road space than buses. Let's hope someone else gives this another shot, and we don't shoot them down if they don't become a unicorn.
> In a capitalist country, the markets will reward those who succeed.
This may be true, but markets will favor a solution that involves maintaining control of the system in order to generate profit.
If we want our transportation system to rival that of Europe's, it won't be done through market competition for transportation services/technology. Why? Because services like ridesharing don't incentivize the development of solid public-use transportation infrastructure. They represent the next revolution of US car culture, which isn't going to benefit as many people directly once cars become unaffordable for too many Americans, a trend that is already being observed.
Once this happens, we're going to rely on cars more than ever because we won't have a viable alternative. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that idea.
A business focused on transit could otherwise profit and maintain for less cost than government fails to do.