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Chariot shuttle vans were spotted in Seattle recently. (Photo via Colin Miller)

Chariot, a shuttle service owned by Ford, appears to be setting up shop in Seattle.

GeekWire reader Colin Miller spotted several Chariot-branded vans, which hold 14 passengers each, in Seattle’s Uptown neighborhood near Seattle Center. The company also has numerous Seattle-based job listings for drivers, as well as positions in operations, marketing and sales working out of a Seattle office.

“Chariot is looking for a well-rounded all-star who wants to help us scale our operations by taking the company’s playbook from SF and write the playbook for Seattle,” reads a posting for a drive operations manager in Seattle.

Looking at the company’s website, it doesn’t appear that the service is live in Seattle yet. It is based in San Francisco and expanded to Austin last October.

We reached out to Chariot, and the company issued the following statement in response: “We’re exploring a number of markets in the longer-term from both an enterprise and commuter standpoint, but don’t have any expansion plans to share at this time.”

(Photo via Colin Miller)

Chariot offers several different services: a public transit-like option that is open to individuals; an enterprise service for big companies to ferry their employees back and forth from work; and a charter option for special occasions. It is unclear if all these services will eventually be available in Seattle.

Chariot’s public option functions more like a bus rather than an on-demand service like Uber. In San Francisco, the company has numerous set routes with designated stops throughout the city and crowdsources decisions on new routes to its customers. Riders download an app and use it to reserve a spot on a Chariot. A route map displays all the various routes in San Francisco, and it also displays progress for each individual Chariot.

Riders can buy passes for a single ride on the app or get monthly passes. Single rides in San Francisco vary from $3.80 for off-peak rides to $5 during heavy commuting periods.

The enterprise option allows companies to set up custom routes to pick people at home or to fill in the last mile from heavily used transit stations. Chariot also offers shuttles to events like holiday parties.

The various public and private Chariot existing and planned lines in downtown San Francisco. (Screenshot Via Chariot)

Chariot was founded in 2014 and raised a $3 million seed round after emerging from Y Combinator in 2015. The company sold to Ford in September 2016 for $65 million. A month later it expanded to Austin.

The company said this year it plans to expand to eight new cities, including one outside the U.S.

Chariot’s drivers are full-time employees of the company with benefits like health insurance, rather than independent contractors. Other transportation tech companies tend to favor the independent contractor model.

Here’s more information about how Chariot adds new routes to its service, from the company’s website:

We crowdsource future routes and pickup/dropoff stops by learning home and work address from users like you. Then, upon reaching a critical mass in a neighborhood, we ask you and your neighbors to crowdfund the new route’s launch by reserving your first Chariot pass. When we reach the target number of riders, Chariot launches the new route within days.

The Chariot network in Austin. (Screenshot Via Chariot)

The most in-demand routes, according to Chariot’s website, tend to be typical commuting destinations, as well as lines that pick up and drop off near major transit hubs. In San Francisco many of the public routes are short and focus on downtown San Francisco, but there are also private buses that will eventually go all the way to San Jose, more than 50 miles south.

The idea of a private shuttle that’s a bit more expensive than a public bus — but perhaps more convenient and comfortable — isn’t a novel business idea. Numerous startups, including some in Seattle, have attempted to make it a viable service and some of the biggest companies employ their own fleets of buses to drive employees to work. Microsoft’s Connector busses are well-known throughout the area, and Amazon launched a pilot shuttle program for its employees last year. Uber and Lyft each have their carpooling options as well, with UberPool and Lyft Line.

On its website, Chariot hints at the challenge of this market. In job postings, the company says it aims to be the “world’s best — and first profitable — commuting option in the next three years.”

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