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Ford to Purchase Bay Area Shuttle Service Startup

In an effort to make its impression on the San Francisco Bay Area, Ford has bought a shuttle service and is partnering with a bike share company to offer FordPass, an online portal to hail a mix of transit options.

by David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle / September 9, 2016
Chariot, a San Francisco-based crowd-sourced shuttle service, has been acquired by Ford, that will provide affordable and convenient transportation to at least five additional markets in 18 months Ford

(TNS) -- Ford Motor Co. announced Friday that it will buy San Francisco shuttle startup Chariot for an undisclosed sum and expand its services nationally and internationally, as the century-old automaker seeks to transform itself into a broader transportation company.

Ford also will partner with New York bike-sharing firm Motivate to bring shared bicycle services to more cities throughout the Bay Area, with the goal of deploying 7,000 bikes in the region by the end of 2018. Riders will be able to access those bikes, as well as shuttles from Chariot, through a single online platform called FordPass.

“We’re taking a look at the whole ecosystem of moving people around,” said Ford CEO Mark Fields in an interview Friday. “Cities are growing. They’re becoming more congested. Cities are looking for solutions, and we want to be part of the solution.”

Ford also will create a specific unit within the company — City Solutions — focused on working with cities to address transportation issues.

Chariot currently operates about 100 shuttle vans, built by Ford, on 28 routes in San Francisco. Ford wants to take that operation global, expanding to 5 more cities — one of them outside the United States — in the next 18 months. Company officials on Friday declined to identify the cities under consideration.

The moves come as Ford and its competitors brace for major changes that could soon revolutionize transportation.

Ford last month committed itself to selling self-driving taxis within five years, as autonomous driving technology rapidly advances. Other automakers have similar plans and are forming alliances with such ride-hailing services as Uber and Lyft.

It is a far different landscape from decades ago, when automakers last bought up mass-transit systems but then closed them down, ensuring the primacy of the automobile. Ford sees bike sharing and shuttles as complements to urban mass-transit systems, not competition, said Jim Hackett, chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, a subsidiary of the automaker that’s focused on alternate transportation systems.

“Think of it as a system,” said Hackett. “These are different pieces that complement each other. Mass transit has a clear, important role where you have clear points of pick up and large numbers of people. Shuttles are a different strategy.”

Ford could eventually bring its self-driving technology to Chariot’s shuttles, Hackett said.

“In the future, the world’s our oyster in terms of what we might be able to do with that capability,” he said. “It really opens a fresh view of the way people will be transported in the future.”

©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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