ISTANBUL — The narrow waterway separating the European and Asian sides of this metropolis has inspired classical myths and frustrated invading armies for centuries.
But today drivers traveling over the three bridges spanning the picturesque Bosporus are more likely to experience road rage than nostalgia in a city known as one of the world’s most congested for traffic.
Now a Turkish entrepreneur is offering a novel solution: a ridesharing app for motorcycles called Scotty.
Launched in May with just a handful of drivers, Scotty — which costs just a fraction of a taxi ride — now boasts more than 2,000 drivers and recently logged 150,000 rides.
It operates like Uber and Lyft: Enter your location and destination, then select a ride by tapping a button that says, “beam me up” – a reference to Star Trek and, hence, the name Scotty. (The company’s logo is a four-fingered V – Spock’s “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute).
Scotty’s founder, Tarkan Altan, 33, said he got the idea after being shocked by Istanbul’s traffic when his family moved to the city from Marmaris on the Turkish coast.
When he helped his father become an Uber fleet partner who supplies cars to the San Francisco-based company’s drivers, he saw how time was lost between drivers transitioning between shifts. So he started using motorcycles to save time getting drivers to their vehicles. Eventually, Altan decided to get out of cars completely and sold his own vehicle to launch Scotty.
“What Uber doesn’t give is time,” he said. “It gives you luxury, a better performance, a better ride, but it doesn’t change if you are stuck in a Mercedes or a taxi — you’re stuck in traffic.”
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Altan said he gets around Istanbul solely using Scotty. He also expresses pride in how Scotty helps locals, whether it’s a student who was saved from missing his university entrance exam, a doctor who made it to her surgery on time or the chief executive who says he’s spending the time he formerly wasted in traffic with his young son.
Motorcycles, however, can be risky, so Altan said Scotty is strict about its hiring practices. Drivers must have five years of experience, pass Scotty’s driving exams, take a psychological evaluation and bring their bike in for a monthly checkup. The drivers are also tested on a track.
“We are super picky,” he said. “We accepted only 10% of drivers who applied.”
Despite the greater safety risk, many Istanbul residents prefer his traffic-dodging service. Altan said he thought women might be reluctant to share motorcycles with a stranger — especially in a Muslim-majority country — but he said 30% of riders are women.
Some women are drivers, too. Derya Karaosmanoglu, 30, a lawyer who moonlights by driving for Scotty, said some are surprised to see a female driver, but she’s only had one passenger refuse to ride with her.
“My motorcycle is bigger than (most) others,” she said. “Maybe some men are afraid, but after five minutes they feel safe.”
Istanbul officials know traffic in their city is bad, and they’re investing in improved transportation. Last year, the city opened two major projects at either end of the Bosporus Strait: a third bridge and an undersea tunnel.
Those projects helped Istanbul, with an official population of nearly 15 million, lose its No. 1 spot on the world’s worst cities for traffic, though it’s still listed seventh in GPS-maker TomTom’s annual Traffix Index.
Some residents are fighting the congestion by purchasing their own motorcycles. The head of Turkey’s Motorcycle Industry Association, Bulent Kilicer, said he expects sales to grow by more than 10% this year to more than 3 million.
Altan’s goal for Scotty is to work with 30,000 individual motorcyclists and operate in more Turkish cities.
In the meantime, he feels pride that he is making this city’s daunting commutes less painful.
“When there is no traffic during holidays, people say Istanbul is beautiful,” he said. “So we can make Istanbul really beautiful again.”
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