With 11,000 pink-hat wearing passengers on board for the Women’s March in Washington DC in January, Skedaddle had to stop accepting new riders. The bus-sharing startup had blown up literally overnight.
“It was really amazing. The March overall was a great success for us,” Craig Nestler, the director of product development and co-founder of Skedaddle tells Inverse. “I was on-site and it was amazing to see all these women and men dressed up with their signs ready to march.”
The New York-based startup wants to change mass transit. Its founders have struggled with our current mass transit system that relies on strict lines, timetables, and old infrastructure, which Nestler describes as “archaic.” They see a future where getting a bus out of the city happens on a flexible schedule and the bus comes to you. It’s the idea that mass transit can be fun and inexpensive, with a system tailored to a clientele of college students.
The real draw to Skedaddle seems to be when you live in a place you want to escape, but only sometimes, making college campuses or cities full of young transplants its main markets. In the future, the company wants to give young people access to parts of the world that were previously closed off to them.
After its time in the spotlight at the Women’s March, the company is eyeing its future. For a company running on college students, that means one thing this time of year: SXSW, Coachella, and Spring Break road trips.
The first thing you notice in the New York offices of Skedaddle is a sink full of dirty dishes. It’s reminiscent of a communal sink in a college dorm. The only wall decoration at the office is a tattered page of the New York Times with a giant photo of Bill Maher emblazoned with the headline “Bill Maher Isn’t High on Trump.” It turns out that there’s a write-up about Skedaddle’s work just to the left of Maher’s head.
The transportation start-up that aims to move people, many of them college-aged, to places where they can experience ski trips or music festivals doesn’t seem that far removed from the lifestyles of its customer base.
One of the important things for Skedaddle is that young people aren’t really driving like older generations. “There’s lots of reasons why people chose not to own cars, and there’s even a movement where people aren’t getting drivers licenses anymore,” Lindsey Dougherty, marketing manager for Skedaddle, explains to Inverse. Not having cars makes it hard for younger people to really enjoy the places that they live, she says. And it’s an experience Dougherty herself can relate to.
“I have lived in Boston for 13 years now, and I remember being a student at BU and not having a car. Wanting to go anyplace outside of the city was a complete hassle,” Dougherty says. She finally got a car five years ago because her husband needed to drive to his office. “We were finally able to actually enjoy New England,” she says. “I feel like, I’ve been living in New England for 13 years but I’ve only really been living there for five.”
Without cars, the only option left for most young people is public transportation, particularly buses. But for the most part, getting on a bus to trek across the country is not something you do because you really like buses (unless you live in Sweden). It’s probably the cheapest way there and you and 58 other passengers spend the trip annoyed at the one woman who is flat-ironing her hair and talking loudly on the phone at one in the morning while you’re trying to catch a little sleep. There are few things that are less glamorous or more frustrating than arriving at your destination in a crowded bus.
“Right now it’s very impersonal to get on a bus. You don’t want to sit next to anybody,” says Nestler. “We want that to change. We want people to feel like when they get on a bus they’re part of something and to connect to the other people on board.”
While some may write off Nestler’s comments as precious — “just get on the bus, already!” you might think — it’s at the heart of what makes Skedaddle different: You can book the entire bus from your phone.
“People in the United States like the idea of carpooling because it’s cheaper, not because they actually like riding with other people,” Harry Campbell, the creator of the popular blog “The Rideshare Guy” tells Inverse. In places like Israel, where Waze first launched and did very well, there is a different sense of what the carpooling experience should be, he says. “The culture there really understands the social benefits of sharing a ride.” In the U.S., he has seen things like Uber Pool and Lyft Line end up being very poorly rated by drivers and riders.
In the short term, focusing on events like the Women’s March, or getting fans off a college campus to a sporting event that’s an hour or two away makes the ride-sharing experience really different. “It’s actually more fun to carpool with a bus full of fans to the game,” he says. Capitalizing on the fun element is the market for something like Skedaddle, and it’s likely that’s going to be how college students travel to big events in the future, or go on road trips for spring break.
On average the rides with Skedaddle are about two and a half hours and cost roughly $45. People can make public routes or private routes for just friends, and can go anywhere at any time. The only catch is that it takes ten riders to sign on before it is chartered by the company. But when you’re planning a trip to the beach in North Carolina for your Ultimate Frisbee team over spring break, having everyone together is part of the adventure.
Giving mass transit this feeling of adventure and camaraderie is part of where the founders of Skedaddle sees its future. Instead of focusing just on moving people out of cities, Adam Nestler can imagine having pop up transportation lines across the country. The goal is to give people access to events and places that were beyond their means, whether it was because of the cost or that public transportation was too outdated to go there.
And for an office that is betting everything on understanding the mind of the college student, Skedaddle has gone all in. A mostly-empty bottle of Bulleit bourbon perches on one of the door shelves in the fridge, the lid replaced by a twist of Saran wrap. It’s probably a leftover from the holiday party, Dougherty says with an embarrassed laugh. Between that and the strings of Christmas lights adorning the edges of the conference room windows, it certainly leaves the impression of an office ready to let college students lead the way.