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Chariot shuttle vans spotted in Seattle. (Photo by Colin Miller)

Chariot hopes to roll out its public commuting service in Seattle during the first quarter of 2018, according to CEO and founder Ali Vahabzadeh.

“Seattle has the potential to be Chariot’s most successful market,” he said in an interview with GeekWire.

The Ford-owned company is already operating its enterprise service in Seattle, allowing companies to ferry their employees back and forth from work in 14-seat Ford Transit Wagons. Vahabzadeh said a handful of companies in Seattle are using the service but wouldn’t name names. The forthcoming public option functions more like a bus, with set routes and designated stops throughout the city.

Chariot CEO Ali Vahabzadeh has big plans for the shuttle service. (Chariot Photo)

By 2019, Vahabzadeh anticipates around 100,000 riders will be using the commuting service to get to and from work in the Seattle region, helping to alleviate traffic congestion in one of the most bottlenecked cities in the U.S.

That’s not the only audacious goal Vahabzadeh has set for the next two years. He told GeekWire, “I’m going to make a bold prediction that by 2019 — you heard it here first — that you’re going to see some form of electrification on Chariots.”

Vahabzadeh believes that the Chariot vans will be entirely electric down the road, giving the company more leverage when negotiating with municipal governments, “because we are an environmentally responsible steward of the community with electrified vehicles.”

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. Vahabzadeh says being under Ford’s umbrella allows Chariot to invest in hiring drivers as employees, providing handicap accessibility, and eventually going electric.

“It’s costly but that’s the way the world is going and I’m pretty confident that our parent company, Ford, is going to make that investment,” he said.

Seattle may prove to be a prime test bed for Chariot’s electric fleet. In September, Seattle transportation officials told GeekWire they are collecting applications from private companies to deploy electric vehicle charging stations throughout the city.

Chariot launched its enterprise service in Seattle this summer. (Chariot Photo)

Chariot’s wheelchair-accessible option is “equitable to the other service,” Vahabzadeh says. Drivers are W2 employees and in San Francisco, they are organized by a Teamsters union. Vahabzadeh says Chariot “can’t wait” to share data with cities, unlike other transportation startups.

Still, it hasn’t always been easy for Chariot to get city officials on board. The service is available in one form or another in San Francisco, Austin, New York, and Seattle.

“New York was the most progressive,” Vahabzadeh said. “New York and Austin were so quick it was lightning speed.”

It took a little more convincing in Seattle. But constructive conversations with the city’s Department of Transportation, as well as King County Metro and Sound Transit, make Vahabzadeh optimistic about his timeline.

“I don’t think the political will is there to build more lanes and highways and parking garages,” he said. “I do think the political will is to overturn archaic laws and rules and regulations to provide a sensible approach to augmenting mass transit.”

Chariot’s public commuting service is rider-financed. In San Francisco, riders can buy passes for a single ride on the app or get monthly passes. Single rides 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 up at home or to fill in the last mile from heavily used transit stations. Chariot also offers shuttles to events like holiday parties.

Vahabzadeh says that nine out of 10 of his enterprise customers have agreed to let non-employees use the same Chariot if they’re traveling the same route, which could create a hybrid enterprise-public option.

“We’re really excited about having those enterprise customers be anchors to other folks being able to use the same service,” he said.

GeekWire co-founder John Cook contributed to this report. 

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