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Chariot back in business after suspension

Private transit company suddenly suspended service last week

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Ford President Mark Fields pushes Chariot onstage at the North American International Auto Show in January.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chariot, the private bus startup owned by Ford, was back in business Monday after unexpectedly suspending shuttle service last week.

Chariot users received an email, signed by Chariot CEO Ali Vahabzadeh, which, in part, read: “Effective Monday afternoon, service will be back on and running as regularly scheduled. We’ve resolved the situation and do not expect any future interruptions. Thank you so much for your patience, and for all your support during this time.”

This came after riders received a message last week saying that Chariot was briefly cancelling all San Francisco service, without divulging any particular reason why:

“We are temporarily pausing our enterprise service beginning this afternoon, with targeted servicing of routes starting again tomorrow. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and will alert you immediately if anything should change.

“[...] Even though Chariot is in full compliance with all regulations, we have received an order from a regulator to temporarily suspend service. We are working to resolve this mattter.”

Neither the cancellation notice nor the restart announcement provided any specific details about what rule the company ran afoul of or who ordered the shutdown.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, the problem was with certain Chariot drivers. “On three separate California Highway Patrol inspections, at least seven Chariot drivers were found to be driving without Class B licenses, which certify them to drive buses,” according to the newspaper.

A Class B license certifies necessary training to operate buses, farm vehicles, three-axle vehicles, and vehicles over 26,000 pounds in the state of California. Muni and AC Transit drivers must obtain Class B licenses along with separate permission to ferry passengers.

Chariot is a privately-owned startup noted for its distinctive aqua blue vans, operating routes mostly in the northeast of the city. Riders pay up to $119 for a monthly pass.

The company still hasn’t said precisely how it ended up putting improperly licensed drivers on the road; Chariot drivers are members of the Teamsters union.

The suspension and CHP fracas comes at the same time that the city is considering putting tighter restrictions on Chariot and potential imitators. SFMTA is considering a new law that would hinder Chariot from poaching Muni riders by making it illegal for a private company to run a route that’s more than 75 percent similar to an existing Muni route.