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article imageBuses for $5? Failed San Francisco transit startup auctions fleet

By Nathan Salant     Sep 19, 2015 in Business
San Francisco - Like highly successful startups Amazon and Dropbox and, potentially, Uber and Lyft, Leap Transit started out to disrupt the everyday and make money by adding the Internet to whatever was already going on.
But Leap and its Silicon Valley venture capital backers quickly came to understand what bus and train riders have been aware of for more than 100 years — public transit provides a lot of benefits, yes, by making it easy to get around and by reducing vehicle traffic and air pollution, but it doesn't make any money.
That's why Leap's last bright blue luxury buses have gone on the auction block (the others have already been auctioned off) and its comfy $6 ride to downtown San Francisco from the posh Marina District is already a thing of the past, according to Business Insider.
Leap is selling off the last pieces of its once-promising startup idea to offer transit riders some comfort, wifi connectivity and quality munchies for their 30- to 60-minute commutes to downtown for a few dollars more than crowded public buses provided by the venerable San Francisco Municipal Railway.
Riders reserved and paid for their trips with smartphones and would meet the vehicles at designated pickup and drop-off areas that tried to avoid interfering with traffic.
Even refreshments could be ordered and paid for online.
The ambitious idea was launched in 2013 but suspended service "temporarily" in May of this year, although at least two competitors — Chariot and Loup — continue to operate.
Leap quietly filed for bankruptcy in July, the Business Insider website said.
The companies operated in a legal gray area between private vehicles and vehicles-for-hire, and state and local authorities periodically made licensing demands on them that were not uniformly enforced.
But generating enough cash to keep operating and keep paying worker salaries proved insurmountable in the crowded transit space.
Leap CEO Kyle Kirchhoff told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper earlier this year that his company's service was legal because its route did not leave San Francisco, although the company had ostensibly been planning to expand south to San Mateo County.
But in a cease-and-desist order issued by the California Public Utilities Commission in May, Leap was accused of failing to follow state safety regulations including regular bus inspections by the California Highway Patrol, the website said.
In a statement on its Facebook page, Leap said it was "in full compliance with all state and local laws" and would return to service after "a few minor changes."
But that seems highly unlikely now, particularly considering the bus auctions.
Any Merry Pranksters out there looking for a natural gas-powered bus to call their own can enter the bidding at West Auctions beginning Oct. 6 and continuing through Oct. 8.
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