Denver residents and University of Denver students, faculty and staff will have to find new ways to make the first or last mile transit connections following the announcement that urban transport company Chariot will be shutting down.
“In the new world of mobility solutions, the wants and needs of customers and cities are changing rapidly,” wrote Erin First, a spokesperson of the San Francisco-based Chariot, in an email interview. “As those changes continue, it has become clear that the mobility services delivered by Chariot over the past five years will not be a sustainable solution going forward.”
Chariot was a micro-transit company, which is like Uber and Lyft but has 14-passenger vehicles instead of cars, according to Stuart Anderson, executive director of Transportation Solutions Foundation. The foundation works on transportation management and options in the city.
The Ford-owned company’s closure is a result of a lack of long-term sustainability, according to First. In addition to San Francisco and Denver, Chariot also offered routes in numerous American such as Austin, Chicago and Seattle, as well as London, England.
Chariot offered two programs in Denver: The first began running in July 2018 and provided routes for DU students, faculty and staff that would get them from the RTD light rail line to various campus buildings. The other began at the end of October and traveled between Cherry Creek and the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Service on these lines ended Jan. 27.
DU started its year-long pilot program with Chariot to improve transportation around the campus, and as a way to cut down on usage of single-occupancy vehicles, explained James Rosner, associate vice chancellor for facilities, management and planning at DU.
“We had something similar we were offering beforehand, but we wanted to use Chariot to see if there was a need on campus,” he said. “We found Chariot to be extremely successful and ridership was doubling every month.”
About 1,100 people on campus signed up to use the program and monthly totals started with 600 rides in July but had grown to about 2,000 in October, according to Rosner’s data. He said the university had every intention of renewing the contract when it ended and was even considering expanding service.
“We were pretty disappointed and surprised when we got the call saying Chariot was closing down,” he said. “Now we’re scrambling a bit to find an alternative.”
Denver has been looking for a micro-transit concept for several years, according to Mary Beth Susman, councilmember for District 5. When Ford purchased Chariot, it seemed like a good time to launch a pilot program.
The Cherry Creek route was filling in a need for people working in the area, Anderson added.
“Cherry Creek is one of the largest employment centers for lower-income workers, mostly in the retail, hospitality and service industries,” Anderson wrote in an email interview. “Employees struggle getting to and from Cherry Creek because it is too costly to park and transit is somewhat limited to the Speer-First Avenue-Leetsdale corridor with fewer services in other directions.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock offered $250,000 from the “Smart City” funds for the six-month pilot program, and Cherry Creek stakeholders put in $57,000 for the pilot. According to data provided by Anderson, 730 people downloaded the Chariot app for this service and about 110 riders used the service at least occasionally.
Anderson added Transportation Solutions is working with the city to find an alternative service to begin Feb. 1 and looking for other long-term programs to test out. The remaining funds can be returned to the city or be applied to one of the alternatives that is being considered.
“Most people in Denver don’t go more than three or four miles a day, so we need to find convenient, inexpensive transit options for those first and last miles,” Susman said. “For now, we’re back to square one on this.”
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