San Franciscans ‘vote’ for private bus Chariot to launch routes in Haight, Outer Richmond

Chariot just launched two new routes for its service, such as the Great Haight that serves Haight-Ashbury. (Kevin Kelleher/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Local tech-transit company Chariot is launching two new van routes today, in the Outer Richmond district and the Haight Ashbury neighborhood.

Chariot is a tech-enabled private transit company, which runs midsize vans along predetermined routes in San Francisco, along California Street, Chestnut Street, in South of Market, Fisherman’s Wharf and other SF neighborhoods.

Among its newest lines launching today are the Great Haight, which picks up passengers on Stanyan, Clayton and Masonic streets along Haight, as well as the new Richmond Racer, which includes stops on 32nd Avenue, 25th Avenue and 19th Avenue along Geary Boulevard.

Both new routes were voted for on Chariot’s website, in a unique platform where riders can “vote” for Chariot to come to their neighborhood. If enough potential riders “vote” for a route, Chariot opens it up for crowdfunding, Ali Vahabzadeh, founder of Chariot, told the San Francisco Examiner.

“You tell us where you want it, and we’ll do it,” he said.

It also reduces Chariot’s financial risk, ensuring there’s a base of riders before starting a route.

Once Chariot lands in one neighborhood, Vahabzadeh said, interest tends to spread to outlying neighborhoods.

“When we did the Marina and Cow Hollow we got a lot of interest from Pacific Heights,” Vahabzadeh said. “So when we did the Inner Richmond for our sixth route, we naturally got a lot of interest from the Outer Richmond.”

A lot of that interest spread online through social media.

In late September, Twitter user Nichole Pejoro tweeted “Why I hate @sfmta_muni? Reason #452-hobo hopped on & is stinkin up the bus. Can’t breathe!! @rideChariot I need a chariot to outer Richmond.”

She later linked to the Richmond Racer page, to encourage more folks to sign on.

“The first Richmond Racer got crowdfunded in 43 minutes, which was incredible,” Vahabzadeh said. “When we said ‘hey, purchase your first pass,’ it filled out in an hour.”

Many of those tweeting for new lines identified themselves as working at startups or in financing. That may be why Chariot considers its competition to be not only Muni, but “rideshare” companies like Uber and Lyft.

“We’re just dirt cheap. Lyft Line is 12 bucks,” Vahabzadeh said. Chariot is about $3-5, varying depending on how many rides you buy.

Still, not all is roses for Chariot. Online user reviews of its Android app complain of it crashing, though iPhone users report a much more stable experience. Chariot’s reliance on smartphones may also make it tough for those who still depend on flip-phones.

Chariot has addressed those issues in the past, even creating paper passes for low-wage workers who voted to start Chariot’s relatively new route to Fisherman’s Wharf.

New routes are in the pipeline, too. A look at Chariot’s website shows a Laurel Heights route “77% Rolled,” in the parlance of Chariot. Other potential routes which have some number of votes are Noe Valley, Western Addition, Panhandle, Russian Hill and Polk Gulch.

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