CityScoot was founded in 2004 by a young entrepreneur who came up with a brilliant idea to help get Louisvillians who had too much to drink home safely — along with their cars.
Mark Roberts and his partners led a staff of seven who would go out each night on black-and-yellow-colored Italian scooters to meet customers at their cars, fold up the scooters that would fit inside the trunk, and drive them home in their own cars.
The innovative business plan worked, and CityScoot ironed out the bugs, some scooter issues and logistics to become a valuable resource for many in the community to get a safe ride home.
A few years ago, CityScoot went a little dormant marketing-wise, although it has always continued offering its service to anyone who called. Roberts lost his mother in 2008, and shortly after, his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, so he had to turn a majority of his focus on being a full-time caregiver.
“Our service suffered in my absence,” Roberts tells Insider. “Without me around to promote it and be the face of the business, people just didn’t know about us anymore.”
Of course, that’s also when ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft came to town and took over the market with new and easier technology.
But Roberts always knew his idea had something neither of those companies had — not only getting you home safe, but getting your car home, too, which, he says, is the No. 1 reason people choose to drive impaired.
After Roberts’ father died this past summer, he realized he had to revamp his business to compete and bring it up to speed.
“When he passed, I realized I wanted to jump back in full time and give it a go and make it what I knew it should have and what it could become,” says Roberts. “It was in that same timeframe when I was introduced to Dave (Deans).”
Deans is a tech guy whose background includes working for companies like Brown-Forman and Genscape. He was familiar with the CityScoot service because Brown-Forman was one of the first business partners to sign on with the company and offer all its employees the service free. It continues that partnership and employee benefit today.
Deans has helped Roberts create an app for CityScoot as well as retool the company’s focus and go after more corporate partners and bar subscriptions.
And now, Roberts says, “CityScoot is back, and we’re better than ever.”
Is there an app for that?
Roberts and Deans quietly launched the app in September so they could work out all the bugs before the new year. And with Thursday’s announcement that a coalition of Kentucky’s alcohol-industry groups are partnering with CityScoot and Lyft to offer discounts on safe rides home this holiday season, Roberts says the timing couldn’t be better.
“We’ve always been the first fully insured designated driver program in the country,” says Roberts. “I think the sky is the limit for us, and I think we can be a feather in the cap for the city. It’s an innovative business that can make a positive difference in the community.”
CityScoot now operates with a staff of 10, and it no longer uses scooters to meet customers. As of today, it has served more than 130,000 customers, people who may have otherwise chosen to take a chance and drive impaired.
Deans walked Insider through the app experience, and it is very similar to that of Uber or Lyft. You create an account by entering your name, phone number, home address and car information. You also can add a credit card for payments, but it’s not necessary.
When it’s time to call for a ride, you open the app, it determines your location, you click the “CityScoot Me” button, and a driver is assigned. Notifications will let you know who that driver is and how far away he is — and you can watch him make his way to you on the app’s map. The estimated fare also will be given before you agree to the ride. The CityScoot driver takes you home and is picked up by a chaser car team.
“Now that the technology has been invented and developed, we knew we had to jump on board and create an easier tool for our customers,” says Deans.
“It’s important to point out that Uber and Lyft are great at what they do, but what they do is different than us,” adds Roberts. “They’re a transportation service — they’ll take you from point A to B. And we only take you from A to home.”
The drivers also will call customers when they’re on their way and let them know when they’ve arrived. It is important to Roberts that his business is more than just an autonomous system — he wants the human touch to be part of the process as well.
The app is free to download and is available for the iPhone and Android.
Roberts and Deans are now focused on three key things to building up CityScoot where it needs to be, and those are:
- Improving the service for consumers — along with the app, CityScoot is now available seven nights a week from 9 p.m.-4 a.m.
- Enlisting more corporate partners (like Brown-Forman) that will offer free or discounted rides to their employees
- Increasing bar subscriptions — Saints will be the first to offer discounted rides home to its customers and staff, and others will soon follow.
Deans believes partnerships between CityScoot and local companies are a way to create progressive work environments and also get the idea of driving responsibly out on the table before the end of the night comes and you realize you need a ride.
“At the end of the day, what I think is really going to be innovative about this is we’re going to start conversations in the workplace about the use of a designated driver and preventing impaired driving that’s never really happened before,” says Deans. “The workplace is one of the most effective places for influencing behavior.”
If CityScoot reaches its goals in 2018, Roberts says it’s possible they could expand into other markets throughout the state and even the country. But first, their focus is on Louisville and building the company to keep up with the growing bourbonism business, tourism and demand.
“Imagine how cool it would be where we could not only be the bourbon capital of the world, but also set an example in responsibility efforts,” Roberts says. “What if we also had the lowest rates of impaired drivers? What if we could actually have both?”
“Hopefully we play a part in that,” adds Deans.