Ridepal Offers Free Google Bus-Style Rides to Relieve BART Strike

A shutdown of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system has been snarling traffic around San Francisco since Tuesday, as local branches of the Almagamated Transit Union and the Service Employees International Union continue to strike for improvements in salary, pensions, healthcare coverage, and worker safety.

So, it’s been a good week to telecommute. But for people who absolutely, positively had to show up at their offices on Tuesday and Wednesday, RidePal has been offering some help. On top of its usual bus routes for corporate commuters, the San Francisco ridesharing startup has been running five to six extra buses each way between the San Francisco Transbay Terminal and locations in the East Bay, rescuing several hundred people from hours-long lines as they wait for AC Transit buses or other ride-sharing options.

“Every day, we think about commuting pain,” says Nathalie Criou, RidePal’s founder and CEO. “In most cases, it’s chronic pain, not acute pain like this week, but this is natural extension of what we do. We very quickly figured out that if we had any additional capacity, we would help out” during the BART strike.

RidePal, founded in 2012 as part of San Francisco’s Greenstart digital cleantech venture program, offers employee transportation services to about 40 companies around the Bay Area. You can think of it as the “Google Bus for the rest of us.” On a normal day, the company transports thousands of riders, mostly along routes between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Criou says. About 60 percent are employees of RidePal’s clients, but the rest are individuals who pay out of pocket to avoid the hassles involved in driving, taking Caltrain, or other commuting options.

Happy commuters board a Ridepal bus.

Happy commuters board a Ridepal bus.

Starting Tuesday afternoon and continuing all day today, RidePal has been sending extra buses to San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, inviting anyone who needed to get to the East Bay on board for a free ride. The first bus was 80 percent full, but every bus since then has been at 100 percent capacity, Criou says. During the morning commute today, the buses also transported riders in the opposite direction,

Heavy traffic on the the Bay Bridge means that it’s taking some of RidePal’s guests an hour or more to get back and forth between San Francisco and the East Bay—normally, a half-hour trip at most. But that hasn’t dulled riders’ spirits. “We’ve had people clapping on the bus after they boarded,” Criou says. “Also victory signs, and big smiles. I would say the overwhelming feeling is that of relief, gratitude, and just general happiness.”

“Traveling in style! Thanks @RidePal for the free ride,” rider Kent Newman tweeted today.

RidePal’s existing routes haven’t been disrupted by the BART-related chaos, Criou says.

She says RidePal isn’t looking for a payoff from its charity, but that there might be a couple of side benefits. For one thing, there’s the publicity (like this story), and Criou says it’s also helping the company “find out what can make the service better,” especially for commuters who live in the East Bay.

On top of that, the strike may help to raise awareness of the growing number of alternatives to classic car commuting or public transportation.

“From a societal standpoint, it’s great when people realize that getting from A to B can be done in a variety of ways,” Criou says. “A lot of other transportation startups have done things too, and I think it’s great. It could have lasting benefits.”


Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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