In Rome, scooters are a part of the culture, as familiar as pizza and gelato. A lot of people use them in cities because the traffic is so goddamned awful. Often it’s quicker to take a Vespa than to try and roll around in a Fiat 500.
Now, Romans don’t even need their own bikes to start scootering: They can get on the back of someone else’s. A new service, called Scooterino, matches riders with spare back seats with people going in the same direction.
“There is a huge population of drivers who can’t live without scooters to get around the city,” says Oliver Page, who’s founded the startup. “It’s not like we’re trying to convince New Yorkers to start driving Vespas. I wouldn’t have thought of Scooterino if I hadn’t grown up in Rome.”
Page grew up in Rome but has lived in San Francisco until recently, where he developed another startup project. He thinks he’s well-positioned to fuse scooter culture with American ride-sharing know-how.
The app is similar to Uber or Lyft, though with important differences. Drivers put in their starting points and destinations, then are linked with passengers wanting rides. They meet up, with drivers supplying a spare helmet if passengers need them. The difference to Uber is that drivers aren’t professionals or even semi-professionals. Drivers don’t shift their routes dramatically or ride outside of times they would normally ride. That’s important for insurance reasons–policies would be invalidated if drivers became scooter-cabbies–and because Uber has faced a lot of resistance from traditional European cab groups protecting their turf.
Also, Page doesn’t see Scooterino as a high-end sort of service. Trips typically cost two or three euros ($2-$3), which is more like the price of a bus ticket than a taxi. “With the economic crisis in Europe, people really need quick, affordable transportation,” he says. “Uber in Europe is something you would use on Friday night with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Scooterino is something you need to survive with everyday because getting around Rome is so challenging.”
Page is hoping to build a volume-based business, taking a small cut from each transaction (though he’s not taking anything at the moment). Currently, there are about 2,000 people signed up, though it’s early days. He has $50,000 in seed capital from the European Space Agency, but is looking for funding to grow, including from U.S. investors.
“We’ve heard from other cities that want to start this. It’s fun to talk about other opportunities in other countries definitely. But, for now, I’m looking to monopolize the Roman market first.”