The Disrupters: Scouting out a one touch multi-transport mobility solution

RideScout claims to get people to where they’re going “faster and smarter.” The free mobile app for iOS and Android is itself a mobility hub: bringing public transportation options (buses, rail, and subway) together with taxis, car sharing companies, ridesharing, public and private biking, parking and walking directions all together in a single view. It not only displays the various modes of transportation but can also estimate the costs for different combinations. It's success has seen mobility specialists the moovel Group announce in April the merger of RideScout and Portland, OR-based GlobeSherpa as moovel North America, LLC. 

Its co-founder, Joseph Kopser, found himself in the mobility business quite by accident. While living in traffic-challenged Washington, DC, he decided to look for alternate ways to commute to work. Kopser’s internet searches ended in vain, with few clues on how to easily compile, in real-time, all of his options to get to work.

So he started the company with a friend over drinks at a cocktail party and filed the first patents in 2011.

In just a few short years, it is now helping millions of people simplify their journeys from point A to point B with a just few swipes on a smartphone.

Mobility experts including Hilary Norton, executive director of FAST (Fixing Angelinos Stuck in Traffic) in Los Angeles, highlight the service. She gave the mobility platform a shout out at a recent conference where she was a panellist and which was held in traffic-snarled LA:“Now with apps like RideScout and others you can compare the cost of driving, ride-sharing, biking, or even walking. Sometimes I’ll stop using my car at work and just walk because it’s cheaper and easier.”

That is the kind of endorsement mobility apps can’t buy but that helped to spread the word about the company from Austin, Texas.

The start-up was acquired in 2014 by Daimler’s moovel Group, offering more business options for the future, including payments and eventually integration with vehicles.

Here’s how Kosper answered some of TU-Automotive’s questions:

Q: Were you surprised that a carmaker would buy a company that suggests alternative modes of transport?

No. There are great examples from industry.Kodak made film and film processing. They saw the future coming with digital cameras and actually invented some of the earliest digital cameras but their senior leaders said they didn’t want to get involved in digital cameras. They didn’t think people would want to take low-quality pictures.

[Kodak] didn’t have the vision that Mercedes and some other automakers do. [The OEMs] see their business as mobility. What they’ve done for the past 100 plus years is providing the cars, trucks and buses to move people around. They realise to maintain their leadership in mobility they need to incorporate all the modes of transportation and now through the technology in smartphones it enables that. I always thought that one day we may be attractive to an automobile manufacturer and we’re just lucky it’s one of the most visionary of all. Mercedes has had autonomous vehicles longer than just about anyone else, they invented airbags, they invented anti-lock brakes, they invented car2go, so it’s no surprise, at least in retrospect, that we would have been a target for them.”

Q: How does that work and what’s the plan for integration into the carmaker’s vehicles?

We are a standalone subsidiary inside moovel, inside [Daimler’s] future vision for mobility services. There’s not a direct link to the auto line yet but the mobility trip of the future, when the car is linked to other modes of transportation out there, that’s all the vision of the future that we want to be a part of.”

Q: Have you worked with other manufacturers and will you now be exclusive to Daimler?

We did in the early days but we are pretty much focused on integrating with the Mercedes family right now. But that doesn’t mean [we] couldn’t be licensed or shared with other automakers. It’s definitely opportunity. You can’t get away from the math; big cities have to have the ability to move people by public transit. The bottom line optimism that I have comes from mobile payments, access, information powered by lowering the barrier to entry to find and pay for public transit. There’s a new movement in mobility in this country, the operations of public transit need to be better. Too many people think public transit is for poor people or the service industry but those attitudes are changing. We are trying right now to communicate to cities by visiting their transit agencies or panels and telling them that we have a real solution for them that connects payments and a last mile solution. GlobeSherpa [a RideScout subsidiary] has won a lot of great contracts here in the US.”

Q: Do you work only in the US or in other countries as well?

“RideScout works as an information tool outside the US, especially if you’re a tourist you can map [your journey] out. It’s kind of like Google Maps on crack. It’s optimised for the US. We don’t advertise the global aspect because you need GPS and Wi-Fi.The London underground data is in RideScout. That capability is there but we don’t advertise it because people need to use their [journey] data.”

Q: What’s the one thing that may surprise commuters in a few short years?

“The first thing is the experience people have today in automobiles, it will be a lot smoother and more deeply integrated with parking, carpooling, and park and ride – where you drive in most of the way and ride the rest of the way in [on public transit or another mode of transport], and better carpooling. That’s coming very shortly in the next few years. That’s going to be a much better use of resources and make it so people can achieve greater efficiency in their vehicles. If you’re riding by yourself today, you can use your car as a shared platform to share costs through an app and make it cheaper to find the most efficient places to park your car and launch the rest of your trip on public transit. Rather than being seen as public transit or carpooling, it will be seamless. We want to provide the capability in a city’s app either as a white label solution or as a standalone app and we think we can do it with our technology.”

Q: How do you generate revenue and are you profitable?

“It’s part revenue sharing, part lead generation – as we put people into other platforms we get kickbacks [referral fees] – but also we are just building a white label solution and administering it, we get that revenue as well. Like all early tech companies, we’re gaining ground. Uber is spending more money marketing than it has revenue coming in. The easiest way to describe it is we’re a growing tech company.”

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