CitySwifter en route to digitally transform bus journeys

25 Mar 2019

Brian O’Rourke. Image: CitySwifter

Our Start-up of the Week is Galway-based CitySwifter, which uses big data to enable public transport firms to adjust timetables according to demand.

“CitySwifter is a data-driven scheduling technology that makes bus routes more efficient,” explained CitySwifter co-founder and CEO Brian O’Rourke.

“It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict journey times and passenger demand, creating optimised timetables that take into account traffic, events and hundreds of other external factors, ensuring on-time performance and increased passenger satisfaction.”

‘The ultimate goal is to get our product active globally in major cities on every continent’

In recent weeks we reported how CitySwifter raised €1.5m in a funding round led by Irelandia Investments, ACT Venture Capital, Mike McGearty (the former CEO of CarTrawler) and other successful Irish transport entrepreneurs.

As a result the company plans to double headcount by hiring 12 new employees, most of whom will work in software development and data science.

The market

O’Rourke explained that the global public transportation market is estimated to be a $500bn market with almost 5bn bus journeys taken annually in the UK alone.

“The industry is ripe for transformation, with existing planning and scheduling either done with paper and pen or outdated, 30-year-old systems.”

The founders

Two men hold a pink pop-up sign that reads CitySwifter in front of large buses.

From left: Alan Farrelly and Brian O’Rourke. Image: CitySwifter

“At CitySwifter, buses are in our blood,” O’Rourke continued. “Our COO, Alan Farrelly, is the second generation of two successful family businesses in the bus industry. Alan brings a wealth of domain knowledge and previous roles managing a large fleet, interacting and selling high-value vehicles to major transport companies throughout Ireland and the UK.”

Just as Farrelly was brought up in the bus industry, O’Rourke has been involved with computer programming since his teenage years, having studied information systems in Trinity College Dublin and business in Dublin City University.

As a result O’Rourke brings expertise in data and information systems, and blends technology requirements with business and user needs to shape the company’s product.

The technology

Operational information is combined with a vast array of big-data sources to develop rich datasets that are unique to each bus network and location.

CitySwifter’s machine-learning models are trained on this data to predict journey times and passenger demand to a high level of accuracy. These predictions are used to automatically generate optimised timetables.

It integrates with existing technologies used by bus networks, ensuring a seamless flow of data in both directions. Customisable management dashboards deliver business intelligence and enable monitoring of KPIs.

“The ultimate goal is to get our product active globally in major cities on every continent,” O’Rourke said.

“We’re successful when public transportation networks are optimal, with increased efficiencies gained and improvements in passenger satisfaction levels. We see public transport as an industry that is ripe for digital transformation and our mission is to not just ensure the industry survives, but instead thrives in the future of the urban transportation ecosystem.”

Taking the fast lane

Throughout 2018 CitySwifter signed up its first clients, analysed billions of data points and delivered a scalable product to them.

“We are currently working with three of the major five UK publicly listed transportation operators as well as a number of smaller city council-owned operators.

“We recently closed a major seed funding round, led by the founders of Ryanair, Irelandia Aviation, ACT Venture Capital and Mike McGearty, the former CEO of CarTrawler.”

Ticket to ride

O’Rourke pointed out that along each stage of growing a technology company, there are different challenges presented to you.

“In the earliest stages of development, it’s all about finding product/market fit and testing your assumptions with limited resources. Once finding product/market fit, it’s about building the correct resources within the company, [finding] who are the right early-stage hires and who are correct investors to bring on board.

“At our growth stage now after going through a major funding round, we’re focused on delivering and scaling our product for clients and establishing various functions within the company – HR, operations, financial, recruitment etc.”

Starting the journey

O’Rourke said that being a start-up on Ireland’s western seaboard is more of an advantage than people realise.

“I think Ireland – and specifically Galway – is a great place to start a technology company that is focused on international growth. The supports from Enterprise Ireland are invaluable and the community around tech in Ireland is growing.

“What gives us a unique advantage is an access to companies, mentors and advisers who’ve done it before, been very successful with their own ventures, and are now willing to help and assist tech entrepreneurs on their journey.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years