Newcomers to Silicon Valley are often shocked at how appallingly bad the transit options between San Francisco and the rest of the region can be.
It’s a legacy of fragmented regional governance where nine different counties created at least 10 different semi-overlapping public rail and bus systems. BART was originally going to connect the entire region but two counties dropped out in the 1960s, leaving the system with partial coverage of the Bay. San Mateo County argued that a rail line operated by Southern Pacific in the 19th century was sufficient and turned it into what is now today called Caltrain, the main train route connecting San Francisco with Silicon Valley.
However, today Caltrain is standing-room during peak commute hours. Then given that weekly ridership has more than doubled since 2004, longer trains with more cars may not be enough to keep up with increased demand.
Caltrain also doesn’t operate much past midnight, leaving younger tech workers who live in the South Bay with few options to get home after going out in the city.
So we’re seeing some more entrepreneurial approaches to handling regional transit.
Fleet, a startup founded by a couple Stanford students, is the most recent attempt.
They’re offering group rides between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m when trains are scarce or when the system is closed. They have shuttles stopping about a half-dozen Caltrain stations in San Francisco, Millbrae, San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. Each car or shuttle seats between five and 15 people and the cost ranges from $6 to $18, which is much cheaper than an Uber or Lyft.
“Transit was especially hard for us at Stanford,” said co-founder Isaac Madan. “Between here and San Francisco, it’s really challenging, especially at odd hours of the day or when the Caltrain is closed. Alternatives are also fairly expensive.”
They are part of a wave of startups, that are experimenting with scheduled and group transport in Uber and Lyft’s wake. Other companies include Tomo Labs, which is looking at similar routes between the city and South Bay but at commute hours. There are also bus companies like Leap Transit and Chariot that are handling group routes within San Francisco.
Fleet is part of the Alchemist Accelerator.