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From Start-up to Scale-up

Before his big idea came along, Alan Farrelly already knew a thing or two about the business of buses. Alan’s family owned Farrelly’s Coaches near Ballymahon, Co Longford, and from the age of 12, he pitched in with his family, cleaning buses and even fixing them.

After completing a business degree in the National College of Ireland, Alan took on more roles and responsibilities with both Farrelly’s Coaches and sister company Central Bus and Coach.

Running a bus company is an expensive business and to keep the wheels moving, the vehicles need to stay on the road and generate revenues to pay for fleets, drivers, maintenance and admin staff.

CitySwift uses AI and machine learning to accurately predict journey times and passenger demand.

As part of an efficiency drive, Alan, and his business partner Brian O’Rourke, a former CitiBank analyst, decided to take a closer look at the bus company’s data.

While crunching the numbers, the pair could see that the company’s vehicles were in use just 15pc of the time. The bus company needed to be more efficient.

Brian says: “Most bus companies have vast volumes of data and it is kept in many different formats. To measure customer demand, most have to wade through different monthly management reports and dense passenger records. It’s difficult.”

This led to the pair co-founding CitySwift. With Brian as CEO and Alan as COO, the technology platform transforms how passenger transport companies operate.

CitySwift uses AI and machine learning to accurately predict journey times and passenger demand. It creates optimised timetables that consider traffic and other external factors.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, CitySwift helped bus companies to plan and schedule routes that helped key workers to travel between work and home at times – when demand was there.

Brian says: “Passenger demand dropped 90pc, but the problem was many bus companies pulled back services too far. Using our technology, we were able to identify pinch-points. With ticket machines digitised and GPS pings coming from on all buses, we were able to look at data in real-time which helped schedulers to plan routes that the key workers such as NHS staff, relied on.”
“The technology we built,” says Alan, “gives bus and coach operators the tools to get more passengers, become more efficient and gain a more profitable business.

In 2018, after a successful pilot study, CitySwift began to attract investors including important early first round matched backing from the Western Development Commission’s Investment Fund.

Brian says: “Initially, the first round enabled us to build our team, develop the product and develop a business plan. When you are a young company you are looking for substantial funding to build a complex solution.”

From humble beginnings and a staff of four people, CitySwift now employs 25 people at its Galway headquarters and there are plans to scale-up to 50 by 2021. These positions will focus on product development, business development and creating a suite of customer success tools. The aim is to be the market leader.

20pc of all UK buses now use CitySwift’s technology. It is in operation in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Coventry, Leicester, Newcastle, Oxford and Plymouth and used by national operators National Express and Go Ahead. Expansion into Europe is also on the cards – a pilot is currently underway in the German city of Leipzig.

Brian says: “We have moved from start-up to scale-up mode and are really starting to change gears with a number of Plc clients added. Some of our staff have been hired from Dublin and London.”

Brian and Alan are grateful to the support from the WDC’s Investment Fund which acted as a crucial ‘catalyst’ for subsequent investors. Investment from the WDC and sources including Enterprise Ireland totalled €1.5m in 2019 and €2m in 2020.

Other investors include the former Car Trawler CEO Mike McGearty and Ryanair co-founder Declan Ryan. Former Stagecoach CEO Robert Montgomery is also part of the CitySwift leadership team.

Brian adds: “With the Western Development Commission’s crucial early support, we were able to grow our team. It is really satisfying to see a second wave of tech companies coming through right now and the WDC is going to be a big supporter of that. My advice for other companies in a similar position would be to engage with the WDC as soon as possible.”

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