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Will microtransit become the next wave in commuter services?

19 Oct 17
Alibhai
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It is after work on a Friday night, and Clément Garnier is anticipating hisnbsp;Chariot.

“There was a baseball game and it was gridlocked at SoMa, where all of the startups are,” said Garnier, 26, a software engineer who works in San Francisco’s South of Market district. “There’s no simple transit home and I can not do Uber or Lyft, because with all the soaring for the sport, it is way too expensive — it was Chariot ornbsp;nothing{}”

Is an app-based, rush-hour commuter shuttle service based in San Francisco in 2014 and possessed by Because lastnbsp;year.

Chariot calls it microtransit — think of a cross between Uber, conventional transit with fixed stops and an airport shuttlenbsp;van.

Users pick an available Chariot on the program and wait at the nearest stop for the driver — a Chariot worker — to pick them up at a 14-passenger Ford van. Routes vary, but normally, they go into the center in the morning and away from it in thenbsp;day.

“We invite the public to inform us where they sail from and sail to and once there is a crucial mass, Chariot launches a twice-daily service through a.m. and p.m. rush hours to offer a quick, reliable, accessible and comfortable holiday experience,” said Ali Vahabzadeh, Chariot chief executive andnbsp;creator.

Growing to Toronto?

There have been other microtransit startups that failed, such as Boston-based And San Francisco’s , a luxury bus which provided organic, non-GMO snacks. Since Chariot was purchased by Ford Smart Freedom in 2016 for a $65-million (U.S.), it’s expanded to , Tex., and, most recently, .

The next stop? Possibly Toronto — earlier this year, the Corporation Placed job advertisements for employees in Toronto and London. However, Vahabzadeh stated there are no “immediate plans” to move tonbsp;T.O.

“I have spent time in Toronto; we think Toronto would be a amazing market for Chariot,” Vahabzadeh said. “Toronto reminds me a lot of San Francisco since it’s a fast-growing city where transit and housing shortages have become front-page news on a weeklynbsp;foundation.”

The Toronto Transit Commission would not say whether it was in discussions with Chariot, but it did state, in an email, 1that it had been “analyzing microtransit and its impacts.” There is no date on when a report may benbsp;published.

Toronto’s previous stab in microtransit was , which gently finished in 2016 following a seven-month pilot taking users to the financial district from CityPlace, the Distillery District, Liberty Village and Fortnbsp;York.

Why take microtransit?

Chariot would not say how many users it’s (Vahabzadeh said “tens of thousands”), but it said it’s 300 vans on both public paths — that anyone with a Chariot account can use — and on business routes used by businesses solely for theirnbsp;workers.

Since the paths are crowdsourced — they are usually fixed routes, but they are based on requests from users — Chariot may add additional supply as popular paths and fill in deserts where there is no publicnbsp;transit.

“I moved to San Francisco three years back and realized that even though it is a fairly small town, it requires a whole lot of time to get from point A to point B,” stated Garnier, who has lived in Paris and Montreal. “There is a reason why San Francisco is the birthplace of Uber, Lyft, Chariot and a whole lot of transportation startups — it is because the other choices here are actually, reallynbsp;terrible.”

Garnier takes public transit to get to work in SoMa (“It is a pain to get out of than it is to get into”). It costs $2.50 and takes him between 45 minutes and annbsp;hour.

But during the night, he had to walk a half-hour to catch the bus, which then took an hour for his property. So he chooses Chariot, which costs $3.80 during peak hours and $5 outsidenbsp;them.

“I used to take Chariot to work, but I understood that it is not reliable enough to get to work on time — in the morning, the ETA will be off by five, 10, 15 minutes, which can be very frustrating in the morning when you’ve got a meeting,” Garnier stated. “So I take it for home, when it actually does not matter if I do not leave right onnbsp;time.”

As an example, on the Friday night when he was trying to get home throughout the match, Garnier ended up waiting 50 minutes because Chariot’s system wasnbsp;down.

“Still, I essentially have a Chariot stop that has a block away from my office and a block away from my house and it takes me straight there,” he said. “That is Chariot’s bignbsp;strength{}”

Potential hurdles

San Francisco has proposed For Chariot and future bus services following complaints of Chariot trucks stopping to pick up passengers in bicycle lanes, busy travel lanes andnbsp;crosswalks.

“We take any security reports very seriously and will immediately investigate and take corrective actions if something is brought to our attention,” a Chariot spokesperson stated in annbsp;email.

And some wonder if services like Chariot could replace more economical public transit entirely on certain paths. That could shut out users that do not have a smartphone or can not afford the more expensivenbsp;fare.

Microtransit is probably both complementing and competing with public transit. We don’t have studies that document the net effect yet,” said Prof. Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center in the University of California, Berkeley. “The technology easing microtransit use might possibly be leaving some demographic groupsnbsp;supporting.”

It is not always a choice between conventional transit or microtransit for many Chariot users — some need to get where they are going. About 20 percent of Chariot’s riders unite it with public transit, Vahabzadehnbsp;stated.

“It provides that {}- and – last-mile capability for people to get out of their offices or home to transit hubs such as the train station, bus terminal or ferry terminal,” Vahabzadehnbsp;stated.

Barriers to growth

At the moment, Chariot does not have permission to travel between counties in the San Francisco Bay Area — which restricts potentialnbsp;paths.

Chariot could face similar barriers if it expands to Toronto, said Sasha Sud, senior program manager of energy and transportation in Toronto’s MaRS Discoverynbsp;District.

“I did meet with their CEO and Ford and a few of the challenges that they confront is how the system is organized,” Sud said. “In the GTA, you will find 30-plus municipalities and every one determines what the rules are for service providers and what sort of monopolies transit providersnbsp;have.”

Regardless of the regulatory hurdles, Sud believes microtransit is 1 part of the way — maybe in With local transit, ride-sharing as well as bike-sharing — to ease congestion, reduce commute times and reduce pollution by getting more people in fewernbsp;vehicles.

“People will need to find an advantage in leaving their cars at home and using a shared vehicle,” Sudnbsp;stated.

It is a choice that might work in several Canadian cities — such as sprawling areas like Edmonton and — but there should be research and pilot projects, Sud said. He points to Toronto Pearson International Airport, which has 300,000 workers going in and out daily. It is the second-largest employment zone in Canada, following downtownnbsp;Toronto.

“Ninety percent of them are utilizing single-occupancy vehicles and getting stuck on the same street — so companies can not keep workers because getting there is such a waste of time,” Sud said ” Is required, but to build it, it is going to take 10 years — so if we could get microtransit in now, we can help fill that gap untilnbsp;afterward.”

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Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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