CitySwift has a ticket to ride

Podcast Ep 201: The CEO of Galway-headquartered CitySwift Brian O’Rourke sees the future of transport at the crossroads of digitalisation and sustainability.

The origin stories for most start-ups tend to take place on a college campus or among work colleagues frustrated with the status quo and who want to shake things up.

Instead picture a secondary school in Longford where two school friends, one of whose family runs a bus company, form a friendship.

“The bus operators are reducing emissions. The cities are focused on reducing congestion. It is really something that people can get behind”

“My co-founder Alan [Farrelly] came from a family that operated a bus company, Farrelly’s Coaches that started in the 1980s. It started with one bus but grew to become one of the largest bus operators in the Midlands. So that’s where the knowledge came from,” recalls CitySwift CEO Brian O’Rourke.

The two friends went their separate ways with Farrelly studying business and O’Rourke studying information systems.

“Like every good Irish story, we got our heads together in a pub one Friday night and Alan was telling me about some initiatives he was trying to drive for his family’s business to improve the efficiency. But he had a gap which was the whole technology area. So we brainstormed and came up with what was a B2C (business to consumer) play for crowdsourcing buses for events, nightclubs, business parks and so on. We did that for 18 months to turn it into a scalable business. But the reality was that there were only a handful of concerts every year at Croke Park, for example.”

A major break came in 2018 when they met with the head of the Stagecoach Group in the UK which operates more than 6,500 coaches. They had a problem. Their CFO wanted to delete all of the data that was being generated from the various digital systems but the MD wondered if there was a way to use the data that was being generated to optimise the performance of the bus network.

“So we decided to pivot towards B2B (business to business) and we developed a platform and scaled from there.”

A data business on the move


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And what a pivot it was. CitySwift specialises in helping local bus networks run more efficiently through the use of predictive analytics and big data.

The business recently raised €7m in a funding round led by Gresham House Ventures. The round also included all existing investors following including Irelandia Investments, the Western Development Commission and ACT Venture Capital with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF).

This was followed by the opening of CitySwift’s first office in the UK and plans to create 50 new jobs.

Founded in 2016, CitySwift is a homegrown Galway headquartered company with a rapidly expanding team of 65 employees building an international roadmap.

A market leader working with all the leading UK operators and public sector authorities, the business has consistently doubled recurring revenue over the last three years and is expanding globally into Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and South East Asia.

Plans, trains and … buses

The reality for most cities, whether they are in Europe, the Americas or Asia, is that the bus remains probably the most efficient way of moving large amounts of people around metropolitan and regional areas. And with the introduction of electric vehicles and even hydrogen-powered buses, they also offer an efficient route towards smart and sustainable cities.

O’Rourke sees the UK as the perfect market for shaping CitySwift’s business and technology for global success. He explained that consolidation and deregulation of the UK transport sector made operators profit-focused, driving the need for greater efficiencies in how bus networks are run.

“This made it easier for us to go and get initial deals done with less procurement bureaucracy. We were able to get smaller pilots up and running and to really learn from working with all of these bus companies.”

This, he said, created the kind of reference projects that have eased CitySwift’s arrival in North America. “We are now active in multiple regions and cities around the UK and it’s a growing market for us. I would say that at the start it was 80% of revenue coming from the private sector and 20% coming from the public sector. Now it would be closer to 50/50. We have relationships with Transport for Wales, for example, and all of these local authorities and city councils are working with us as well. Because the data is a collaboration tool between the public sector, the private sector, it helps with where to make infrastructure decisions, where do we be build bus lanes? What are the biggest pinch points in the network? Where would investment have the biggest impact for passengers.”

Northern Ireland is also a key market for CitySwift and the company is working to optimise the Northern Ireland bus network. The business is also on the verge of announcing its first clients in the Republic of Ireland.

O’Rourke said that the key is to deliver a tangible return on investment but also help bus network operators deliver on their climate actions.

The fuel he says is data. “The bus operators are reducing emissions. The cities are focused on reducing congestion. It is really something that people can get behind.”

It is a tantalising but also wholly reasonable idea that technology built in Ireland will soon have a massive positive impact on mega cities like London as well as cities like Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge and Birmingham.

“It’s good to know that we are the market leader in the UK and we’re hoping to do that in Ireland this year as well.”

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John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.