Like many New Yorkers, my commute to work is one of extremes. On a good day, I arrive at the office in roughly 30 minutes. The bad days, which occurs randomly, but frequently, takes anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes on a subway full of aggravated commuters packed in like sardines.
Most days, I'm lucky to have enough room to hold a book in my hands, let alone move an inch without touching someone else's sweaty arm. The oft-repeated "Ladies and gentleman, we are being momentarily held by the train's dispatcher" haunts me in my sleep. This summer, train problems have reached hellish proportions, and you need only to look to the the New York subway's official Twitter account for evidence of the outrage.
Anyone who relies on public transportation in a city knows these struggles well. While there are alternatives to buses and trains — including Uber Pool and Lyft Line — these are usually pricier, especially when you consider that multiple people requesting them at the same time raises prices. This is where Chariot, a rapidly expanding, crowd-sourced shuttle service, comes in.
Priced at just $4 a ride (and $119 for an unlimited monthly pass), the Ford-owned ride-sharing company is quickly becoming one of the most affordable and appealing commute options available. Today, Ford announced that the service is coming to New York City this August, having successfully launched in San Francisco, Austin, and Seattle.
Here's how it works: You download the app, and enter your pickup and destination. You'll see the Chariots operating nearby. As soon as fifty riders express interest in an area, more Chariot shuttles will be added, operating twice daily — during a.m. and p.m. commuting hours.
Chariot cars will initially drive by in 10 minute intervals. Each route typically has four or five pickup spots, and four or five drop-off locations. Ali Vahabzadeh, Chariot's CEO and co-founder, told Refinery29 that as certain routes become more popular, the frequency will go up and waiting time will decrease.
Chariot also has major perks that public transportation lacks. It's not just a bus: When you reserve a spot in a car — each of the Ford vehicles seats 14 people, plus the driver — you are guaranteed a seat, something that is often a luxury on crowded buses and subways. There's also air conditioning and free WiFi. Also, all of the drivers have been professionally trained and you can rest assured knowing that background checks have been performed.
The earliest adopters of the shuttle service were young, professional women, Vahabzadeh says, and that has remained the case. Among the reasons women have cited for preferring the shuttles over other modes of transportation, the list includes: not wanted to be squished by others, being too short to reach the subway's overhead bar, and having to wear heels to work.
There's also the cost factor. "Maybe you're just out of university or grad school, you have student debt, and you want ot live in a city where there's lots of options," Jessica Robinson, the director of city solutions at Ford Smart Mobility, told Refinery29. "Owning a car is, for many, just one more financial burden that doesn't make sense."
Chariot accepts WageWorks and commuter checks, meaning that you can save money by using pretax dollars. For those using this option, that $4 per ride is really more like $2.50 per ride, Vahabzadeh says.
Chariot will be available in four more cities by the end of 2017, although these have yet to be announced. In August, two routes will initially be available in what Vahabzadeh calls "transit deserts" New York — from the Lower East Side to Midtown in Manhattan, and Greenpoint to Dumbo in Brooklyn.
If you're tired, or just don't feel like fighting the sweaty mess of the subway after a long day, opting for WiFi, AC, and a guaranteed seat sounds like a pretty ideal alternative.