Blablacar A positive or negative revolution for mobility?

Seville, Spain.

The world changes, evolves, transforms at breakneck speed at the same time as connections between persons increase. The universalisation of internet, firstly, and internet mobile networks, at the present time, have changed the way in which we interact, facilitating access to knowledge, optimising production processes and developing synergies for a world connected to the net.

The millennial generation is at the forefront of this latest movement with the aim of changing mobility trends.

For this reason, we are going to discuss today a new means and different means of transport coming to the fore: social networking sites offering car-pool systems, and more specifically BlaBlaCarthe most relevant platform of this nature in Spain though not without its share of controversy. We shall see outlooks taking into account the transport engineering viewpoint as well as that of citizens.

I have written this article in tandem with Agustín Cuello who has carried out a highly interesting research project on the subject.

What is it and how does it work?

BlaBlaCar defines itself as a User Community that puts drivers with empty seats in their cars with passengers looking for someone to take them.

For this reason, both drivers and passengers must be registered. The driver announces a journey they are going to make and the passengers choose the alternative that best fits their needs. If there are free spaces, they get in touch with each other and seal the deal.

The aims that BlaBlaCar seeks and the main features of the service are:

  • Simple organisation
  • Trustworthiness and reliability.
  • Openness in terms of prices.
  • Accuracy in terms of origin – destination.
  • Accessibility via web and mobile application.
  • Preference selection.

blabla1 Carpooling is not a new concept, nor is it something BlaBlaCar has come up with. We have all done it from time to time: with relatives, friends and workmates.

In the same way as professional networks have always existed, along with classmates, workmates and others BlaBlaCar aims to create a new network of persons who wish to travel, forming a mobility network. This solely applies to new connection facilities for persons to increase their potential as we have already seen with Linkedin in the case of professional relationships.

Is BlaBlaCar a public or private transport system?

The first thing to be approached when analysing BlaBlaCar from a Transport Engineering viewpoint is the following conundrum: Is BlaBlaCar a public or private transport system?

On the one hand, it is a private because it has the following features:

  • . It is not available to the general public
  • There are no pre-established routes or timetables
  • Travelling speed is chosen by the traveller.

On the other hand, public transport:

  • Is a service available for public usage.
  • Users share a means of transport.
  • Users have to adapt to timetables, routes and the speed of the operator.

Based on these definitions, it seems clear that BlaBlaCar, as an open platform for citizens, has transformed a mainly private transport system, as was the shared car up to the present time, into a public transport system. Once this has been classified as a public transport system, others issues begin to arouse our interest:

  • Who is the Operator?
  • Who is the User?
  • What role does BlaBlaCar play?

On the one hand, the driver is simultaneously the user of the private transport system, as they use their own vehicle to undertake a journey whose route, timetable and speed they decide, thought they are also the operators, at the present time in a non-regulated sense, of a public transport system.  blabla2 Finally, BlaBlaCar, as a meeting platform between drivers and passengers, is the equivalent of a Transport Authority (such as a transport consortium) yet private in the sense that:

  • It manages and “regulates” driver – passenger relationships.
    • Information on timetables.
    • Information on prices.
    • Facilitates the contact between users.
    • At the present time, in Spain no charge is made for the service, they survive off advertising.
    • In France a surcharge of between 10 and 12% is applicable.

What benefits does it offer citizens? Corporate data shows that there are:

  • 7 million users
  • 12 operational countries.
  • 1 million monthly users
  • 3 billion shared kilometres travelled.
  • Estimated revenue of 255 million euros for drivers.

For example the combined Transport Consortiums in Andalusia handles 3.3 million monthly users.  

In order to illustrate this, let us take a look at operational options: for services between Huelva and Seville (as of June 4th, 2014):

OPERATOR TIMETABLE FREQUENCY TRAVELLING TIME COST OFFER
BlaBlaCar 6:00 – 22:00 20 – 30 min 1 hour 5 € 51 trips (approx. 150 seats)
Damas (Intercity Bus Network) 6:00 – 21:00 1 hour 1 hour 15 min 8,67 € 19 trips (approx. 150 seats)
RENFE 7:00 – 19:00 4 – 7 hour 1 hour 30 min 12 € 3 trips (approx. 150 seats)

    On the basis of the evidence of the table shown above, in which BlaBlaCar offers a transport service with a wider timetable, greater frequency, reduced travelling times and at a lower costs, we can conclude that …

“BlaBlaCar is the Public Transport System with the best medium distance operation characteristics in operation in Spain”

BlaBlaCar has accomplished the development of a public transport system with private operational characteristics at a reduced cost compared to traditional public transport systems.

Can the system be improved?

To sum up, we have included herein a series of ideas on how the service could provide more and how to move forward in terms of the relations between the actors involved: users, operators and the Public Sector Administration. (AAPP).

The proposals have been divided into four sectors depending on the agents involved in each one of them:

  • For the relationship BlaBlaCar – Users improvements to the information provided would be a start, for example information on traffic, or the use of journey databases for the creation of transport policies.
  • For interrelations between BlaBlaCar and the Public Sector Administration. It would seem logical that, prior to moving towards a possible regulation and integration of the service, an evaluation must be made of the social, economic and environmental impact this new means of transport has on society as a whole. Based on this analysis, and only then, will it be possible to regulate through the use of transport policies with a clear aim: improve mobility for citizens. Yet there are many issues to be evaluated, such as:
    • Does it really need regulating?
    • Is it a business or merely a way of sharing costs?
    • If it is not regulated, will it be illegal competition for those public transport operators who pay their taxes?
    • What happens if one day there is an accident?
    • Traffic information.
    • Monetisation of OD matrixes.

As you will see, this is a ground-breaking issue and undoubtedly polemic. What do you think about this issue?. Dear readers and operators, I await your comments. And what about the citizens’ viewpoint? Anyone from the public sector willing to comment? And where do political parties stand on this matter?

This article has been written by Agustín Cuello and Julián Sastre.

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