RANJIT Anderson doesn’t need a degree in biology to know that drinking and driving is a bad idea.
The former molecular biologist is a joint partner in Scoot, a firm based in Leith that specialises in giving people a lift home when they’ve had one too many, and with the Christmas party season soon about to pop its first cork, she knows it’s going to be busy.
The idea behind Scoot is that one of the firm’s 15 drivers will motorcycle to wherever you have washed up, relieve you of your car keys, pop the foldable bike in the boot and get you home safely. This saves money on taxi fares, parking tickets and accidents, and avoids the hungover having to retrieve their cars in the morning. “My husband, brother and I decided to set up Scoot as we were determined to revolutionise the way people travelled. A friend had used something similar in London and we thought it was a brilliant idea and decided to give it a go in Edinburgh,” says the 37-year-old. “Everyone should be able to get home with their cars, and it’s safer to Scoot.”
That was back in 2003, and since then things have really taken off for the company, which is about to launch in Glasgow once the Christmas rush is over. Its expansion is also timely, with the Scottish Government recently launching a consultation on reducing the drink-driving limit in line with the rest of Europe, from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams.
Anderson might be a go-getting entrepreneur now, but self-employment was never on the cards for her when she was growing up. “My father had come to England from the Punjab and had to support his family there. He had shops and then moved into property and was very successful, but they wanted their children to go to university. “I was good at biology so I did a masters in medical genetics at Aberdeen University, then worked at Oxford University as part of a research team looking for the gene that causes type 2 diabetes. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped, so I came to Scotland to be closer to my family and worked at the Scottish Agricultural College, looking at scrapie in sheep.
Despite Anderson’s father’s best efforts to encourage his children to study, his hard-working example merely encouraged them to follow in his footsteps and go out on their own. “If you’re from a self-employed background it’s very inspiring, so my brother Surbjit, my husband Mike and I decided we wanted to do something amazing ourselves,” she says.
The trio quit their jobs – Ranjit in the lab, Surbjit with his dad and Mike in a bank – and sank all of their savings into the new business. They invested in a fleet of motorbikes and Scoot was born. “Mike is the brains and Surbjit and I were enthusiastic and thought we could do anything,” she says. “Now we know it’s harder, but we rode out our mistakes and the Glasgow launch will be much smoother. We already have customers there. “We are growing by 30 per cent every year now and have money to invest. After Glasgow, maybe Aberdeen and maybe other UK cities ... OK, then Europe.”
Not only have the bikes taken off, but Anderson has seen a growth in demand for the service as drinkers take a more cautious attitude to drinking and driving. “We rarely get people who are really drunk. They think twice after just one glass of wine these days. People have busy lives and want their cars next day. Lots of them live out of town and trains don’t run that late, so we’re cheaper than a taxi both ways. Our average fare is £35,” she says.
Scoot drivers have seen it all, from a member who needed four folk to lift him to his car, to vehicles that run out of petrol and foxes that run out of verges. “Our clients are rarely very drunk and as long as they’re not abusive that’s fine. It’s not all pub pick-ups. We go to hospitals to collect people who can’t drive themselves home, take clients’ cars to the garage, drive the bride and groom’s car to the honeymoon hotel. If you don’t have someone to pick you up, we are the people to call.”
And unlike your nearest and dearest, they don’t give you an ear-bleeding lecture on the way home.
Scoot (0131-656 6666, www.scootltd.co.uk), fares from £12.60 for members, £14 for non-members
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