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SF considers banning Chariot from mimicking Muni routes

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Private company’s lines cause headache for commuters and public transit agency

San Francisco could soon bar private bus lines like Chariot from running routes that closely resemble those of Muni buses, which, among other things, reportedly interferes with the public transit agency’s traffic.

Chariot, a startup owned by Ford Motor Company, operates shuttle service in San Francisco via its signature aqua-colored vans. Rides run between $3.80 and $5 a pop, and a full access pass is $119 per month.

The company’s routes stick to high-demand corridors like Geary, Van Ness, and Second Street, which service the Financial District, SoMa, Mission, Richmond, Haight, Potrero Hill, North Beach, Pacific Heights, Noe Valley, and Marina neighborhoods.

Under a proposal working its way through City Hall, Chariot and other private transit lines would be forbidden from running new lines that resemble Muni routes by “75 percent or more.”

In a September, SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose laid out a suite of regulations the city may consider for Chariot and similar companies, citing complaints from those who live and work near Chariot routes:

Like any passenger vehicle, PTVs [private transit vehicles] are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers at any curb where stopping is not prohibited.

However, since new PTV services started operating a few years ago, the city has heard concerns about PTVs stopping in unauthorized locations such as crosswalks, traffic lanes, Muni boarding zones and other red curb zones.

The public transportation agency says it wants to keep Chariot from interfering with service on Muni lines, and that new transit companies should “complement Muni service, not replicate it.”

In an online petition Chariot circulated this week (nearing its 1,000 signature goal as of Wednesday), the company tactfully but pointedly accuses the city of trying to hurt its business:

Chariot has been part of an ongoing discussion with the SFMTA about new rules that would affect their operations in San Francisco. These regulations would negatively impact the hundreds of driver employees on staff and thousands of riders who rely on the service daily, making it so Chariot is unable to expand service to continue to fill in gaps in SF's transit ecosystem.

The matter came to an ambiguous non-conclusion on Tuesday. San Francisco Examiner reports that the SFMTA board waffled on the efforts to rein in Chariot and “asked staff to come back to the board with its final proposal to ban competition with Muni” at a later date.