We’re all used to stories of internet start-ups that have become growth phenomenons in the States, often as a result of friendships from University or College. So it’s refreshing to see that in one area at least the Europeans are leading the way.
The recent environment of austerity brought on by the banking crisis has given rise to an increasingly diverse range of new websites that help people to save money. Many of them of course simply wouldn’t have any traction without access to proper broadband.
One fast growing concept is that of car or ride-sharing. We’re all used to friends and colleagues helping out by sharing the school run or the ride to work, but how about sharing a ride over 300 or 400 miles with a complete stranger?
The concept has become really popular in central Europe where journey distances tend to be greater, and the main road networks suffer less traffic problems than the UK. But perhaps because of the appallingly inefficient and expensive public transport system we’re saddled with, the number of UK users is growing fast as well.
Carpooling.co.uk claims to have some 4m registered users across Europe, and is part of Carpooling.com (based in Munich) which claims to be the world’s no.1 carpooling network, moving over 1 million people each month in some 5000 cities and 45 countries. It also sites in its credentials that thanks to its website 30 million carpools have been formed, 860,000 tons of CO2 and over 1.5 Billion Euros have been saved by its users. On the social side it’s also proud to have created thousands of friendships, and been responsible for 16 marriages!
Also popular is BlaBlacar.com which offers drivers the ability to offer seats at prices of their choosing. Users book online and pay via the company’s website which passes the money onto the driver less its commission. The company claims to arrange around 400,000 rides a month, the equivalent to 1,000 fully loaded passenger trains. It also says that its registered user base has gone from 100,000 in 2009 to 2.3 million today.
All the sites we looked at whilst allowing drivers to share costs, take some steps to ensure that they don’t actually make a profit from the arrangement.
Some will feel concerned about personal security with these kind of deals; who wants to be travelling across the country at night in bad weather with someone who’s driving seems sub-standard? What about single women travelling alone?
Most websites we looked at have put some thought into this, but understandably don’t necessarily publish all their checks and safety procedures. Most require the driver to submit a personal profile of themselves and their cars. Also required are personal information like bank details (to receive direct payment). Many have the option to post photos of the driver, and all have some kind of rating index where passengers can leave feedback on the overall experience, and also list what level of conversation they can tolerate! It’s quite normal for women passengers to seek out female drivers.
Apparently despite the huge distances involved, no comparable national service has been established in the United States. Some say this is because fuel is so cheap compared to Europe it’s just not such an obvious idea. It’s also likely that in a country where THE status symbol is the car, most ordinary Americans would be a bit huffy about sharing a ride.
Overall from a European perspective it’s easy to see the upside. Looking at the sites today we spotted a seat in a car going from London to Paris for only €35, another from Edinburgh to Gloucester for £39. No mechanism of public transport could offer these prices on ordinary fares, and many offers of seats we looked at did offer the opportunity for a return seat, albeit at twice the single cost. Some cities like Bristol also now have traffic lanes that during peak periods are only for shared cars.