For Ginny Ferguson to arrive at her office in Chicago by 8:30 a.m., she needs to leave her south Naperville house by 6:45 a.m.
First, it’s a 15-minute walk to the Pace stop closest to her home to catch the 7:03 a.m. bus. Then she hops the 7:41 a.m. Metra train from Naperville to Union Station before walking the rest of the way to her office.
If she’s lucky, Ferguson gets a seat on the train, where she’ll spend the commute responding to email. Getting any work accomplished beyond that is impossible. “It’s too crowded; I can’t take out my laptop,” she said.
On occasion, Ferguson enlists a ride share service. “There are times I’ve spent the money to Uber to work,” she said.
What she’d prefer is a method that costs less than Uber or Lyft and allows her to get work done.
Kashif Zaman, of Naperville, is in a similar situation. He commutes to Chicago three days a week and finds the train is too disruptive and loud to get any work done, he said.
Matt Beck is banking that they’re not alone and he says he believes he has the solution: an executive transit shuttle service from Naperville to Chicago that start Feb. 5.
Beck, a Chicago entrepreneur, said he picked Naperville to launch Squire because of the high number of executives who commute to Chicago daily.
“Naperville is a place where people want to live,” Beck said. “For us, Naperville has a heck of a lot of people with that demographic we want to reach.”
Most commuters have one or two options for getting to Chicago during rush hour. “You can drive yourself or take public transportation,” Beck said.
While the train may be the lesser of two evils, Naperville commuters complain about the inability to find parking at the Naperville train station or that their offices in Chicago are not close to Union Station, where the train disembarks, he said.
With Squire, customers ride in luxury mini buses with leather high-back seats and high speed Wi-Fi that allow them to work, binge on their favorite show or catch up on sleep, Beck said.
Because Squire is a transit-tech startup, the company doesn’t have its own fleet. It has contracted with charter services to provide the buses during rush hour.
At this point, Beck is targeting people who live in south and east Naperville, where customers can park for free at the Naperville Church of Christ on 75th Street, just east of Wehrli Road. Passengers are picked up at the church every 15 to 30 minutes between 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.
They are dropped at the Willis Tower, the Merchandise Mart, Chicago City Hall and four other locations around the Loop, so no passenger has to walk more than a couple of blocks, Beck said.
Return commute pickup times range from 3:30 to 6 p.m.
If there is enough demand, Beck said could work out pickup locations in other parts of Naperville closer to people’s homes. He also plans to expand to other communities if Naperville proves successful.
Beck said pricing is competitive.
A one-day roundtrip pass with Squire is $19.95. That’s less than many $20 all-day lots in Chicago and doesn’t include the $19.61 in gas, maintenance, insurance, and the wear, tear and depreciation he estimates drivers put on their cars commuting to the Loop in a single day.
Beck said Squire riders save even more with a monthly pass at $290, which equates to roughly $13 per day in an average month.
By comparison, roundtrip travel on Metra to Union Station from Naperville for a day is $14.
For commuters who purchase a monthly Metra ticket online between Naperville and Union Station, the cost is $210.25. Beyond that, there is the cost of parking at the Naperville train station or an extra $30 for a monthly Pace bus service pass to the Naperville station.
Paying a little extra is worth it, said Ferguson, who was one of the first to sign up for the service. Not only is she guaranteed a seat, she said she plans to use the Wi-Fi to get work done.
“I do think I’d be super productive,” she said.
Ferguson also estimates she won’t have to leave as early in the morning and she’ll be home sooner at night. “That’s me getting my time back,” she said.
Squire customer Zaman said once he hits the office, he’s in non-stop meetings the rest of the day. The extra space on the shuttle bus will allow him to be productive during his commute time and he’ll get dropped off closer to the office.
Beck’s idea for executive shuttle service is nothing new. It’s been tried in communities across the United States.
In 2014, Blackline tried to create a luxury private bus service from Chicago’s Lakeview area to the Loop. That service didn’t last long, perhaps because the cost was twice that of a parallel CTA bus route.
Bridj started in Boston in 2014 and allowed passengers to book a shuttle between home and work during commuting hours through a smartphone app. It ceased operation in 2016 after expanding to Washington, D.C., and Kansas City.
Chariot, founded in San Francisco in 2014, continues to operate and has expanded its service in Seattle, New York City and Austin. It expects to add three more cities in 2018.