Over the course of our eight-week Open Innovation programme, we’ll be putting a series of quick-fire questions to our finalists to find out a bit more about where they’ve come from and what their plans are for shaping the future of our cities.
Today, CitySwifter client director James McCarthy introduces us to the Irish start-up transforming bus travel…
How did CitySwifter get its start?
CitySwifter all started off when Brian O’Rourke had a light bulb moment.
It struck him that there should be a solution for booking private buses online. Bus operators would benefit from the increased utilisation of their vehicles, while passengers would benefit from better access to a quality shared transport network. It was a win-win solution.
Fellow CitySwifter founder Alan Farrelly’s family have been in the bus transport business for over 35 years, and this gave us access to good quality industry information for our feasibility study. Huddl and then CitySwifter launched as a B2C commuter service in Dublin in 2016, in which passengers were given the opportunity to crowdsource and create dynamic bus routes. We received some steady and promising early traction but ultimately the scalability of the model was unachievable. Recently, we’ve seen many American tech start-ups who’ve raised multi-millions from investors fail with a similar business model.
After realising the limitations of the B2C business model, CitySwifter pivoted from B2C to B2B having noticed that the real opportunity lay in selling its technology rather than in operating bus routes.
What is the problem you’re solving?
We realised that bus companies around the world on average have only three static timetables, but passenger demand and journey times on routes vary every hour, day, week and month of the year. Currently, bus companies can’t foresee or react to these changes, leading to bus industry load factors of less than 35% (airlines boast nearer to 95%) and networks that don’t match commuters’ travel patterns.
In order to solve this problem, the CitySwifter platform analyses internal transport industry data to produce key metrics, then matches these with an ever-growing list of external data sources, API’s and IoT sensors – anything that can affect or influence journey times or passenger demand.
Using AI and machine learning, we’re able to predict and export the most cost-efficient, optimised timetables to be used with existing systems – resulting in more passengers moved at less cost. Passengers benefit too, from a reduction in waiting times and ability to predict and prevent overcrowding.
Why did you decide to apply for the CityVerve Open Innovation programme?
An estimated 210 million passenger journeys take place by bus in Greater Manchester every year – 79% of all public transport journeys, ahead of 9% by train and 12% by tram. With the technology that CitySwifter can develop in coordination with CityVerve, there is a massive opportunity to work with Manchester transport stakeholders to improve the public transport network across Manchester.