Ok, alright, it is not really hitchhiking, as you have to pay some dough for your way -- but it is cheaper than train, planes and rented automobiles -- the next best thing after bicycling. It is a clever way to fill up unused seats in a car traveling from point A to point B. It's a somewhat more eco-friendly than selfishly driving alone in a car with four or five seats and only one passenger.
Enters BlaBlaCar. The concept is not entirely new, but the high prices of gas and the restricting economies all over the old continent offer an old-fashion system to travel around again. Just as teenagers in the '50s, '60s or '70s used to lift a thumb by the side of autobahns in the hopes that a good Samaritan would step on the brakes to pick them up, the company BlaBlaCar offers a similar experience for a few dollars.
Let's say that you know you have to drive from Paris to Brussels and have empty seats in your car, the BlaBlaCar system allows you to advertise your ride and put a small price on it, about $27 for this particular one, for others to hop in if they wish to go that way. Somewhat less spontaneous than hitchhiking, true, but also probably safer, as the driver will be a register member of the company.
So far in Europe, BlaBlaCar has eight million members in 12 countries, so they must be doing something right, and something needed. The creators have now plans for Turkey, Brazil and India. The trick behind the success of the operation is to only link a city to another city, long distance is the key, in order not to compete with taxis service and suburban commuters' transportation.
Of course, the linkable cities need to be fairly well-equipped with subways, buses, or other mass transit where the renting riders will be able to be dropped off, this is not quite a door-to-door service. The fact is that when you enter a new city on business, it's mostly a hassle to have a rental car of your own, as parking, street maze, and foreign signs might not make your trip easy. If you can be let at the door of the town and use taxis or subways, it's a more practical way to get around.
As for tourists, with time on their hands, it's also a wonderful way to meet native citizens, to discover a country without having to struggle with directions and missed highways. Drivers from the Commonwealth countries might also appreciate the fact that they won't have to drive on the wrong side of the roads. The flexibility is definitely higher than using a train or a bus, let alone a plane.
The BlaBlaCar website stresses a couple of points:
The web and mobile platform are engineered to create a secure, trust-based community with full member profiles and even a preference for members to specify how chatty they are, from Bla (shy) and BlaBla (convivial) to BlaBlaBla (chatty), hence the name BlaBlaCar.
For female travelers, BlaBlaCar also offers a special optional feature called Ladies Only, where female members can offer a ride to registered female passengers solely.
Today a trip from Paris to Aix-en-Provence was listed for $27; another from Exeter (UK) to Lyon (France) was advertised for $15 and was immediately booked, even though that one meant crossing the English Chanel, the price could have barely covered any gas -- maybe a snack? On July 31, you can ride from Paris to Moscow, a 1,550 mile-trek, for just about $130, what a deal!
Drivers offering rides are not in this adventure to make money, they just get a little bit of help from new friends with the gas cost, and some company. This is not a way to earn a living, and not a profit-making enterprise for the conductors.
The company was created in 2011 by three Frenchmen. Frédéric Mazzella, the founder and CEO of BlaBlaCar, has a master in physics and worked as a scientific researcher at NASA. He is also a regular speaker on the subject of sustainable development, entrepreneurship, global marketplaces and building trust in online communities. So the man knows his turf.
Nicolas Brusson is a co-founder and COO. He led the campaign that just successfully raised $100 million capital for the expansion of the company. When they recently launched in Ukraine and Russia, 250,000 people joined in the first three months.
The third co-creator, Francis Nappez, leads the technical evolution of BlaBlaCar and sets project milestones. Over one million members now travel with BlaBlaCar through Europe every month. The name might sound childish, but it works in every language, this is serious business. Membership is free, and whether you bla-bla or not with your driver is entirely up to you. Safe trips!