The company says some eight million drivers globally currently actively participate in the service.
Considered one of France’s startup success stories, Paris-based ridesharing unicorn BlaBlaCar has announced that it’s expanding its service from long-distance travel to include short-distance trips in the traffic-choked capital city.
BlaBlaCar’s move is notable for a number of reasons. In a country bursting with entrepreneurial talent that’s legendarily frustrated by government bureaucracy, among other challenges, the company rocketed to unicorn status in 2015 – rare in Europe – with a Series D funding round that netted it $200 million in investment on a $1.6 billion valuation.
Unlike Uber or Lyft, its original business model was based on long-distance shared trips averaging 220 miles and a price-per-mile as much as 30 times lower than Uber. But since its spectacular moment in 2015, it has struggled for traction in various markets – shutting down operations in Mexico, India and Turkey – while finding its growth flattening at home in France.
As its popularity grows in that country, with its highest number of rides per month, the company is pushing hard there and in eastern Europe countries where it believes it can accelerate growth. “It took us 10 years in France to build the equivalent of what we built in 2 1/2 years in Russia,” CEO Nicolas Brusson told Tech Crunch in April.
In the same interview, Brusson noted that western Europe countries were “relatively similar” with one another and that the service “never really took off” in the U.K.
He also revealed that after placing its bets – with some disappointments – on geographical expansion, the company is refocusing, adding new products and services in a bid to recast its future. “What do we do now?” he said. “How do we diversify our products and our business to foster growth?”
Part of the answer can be found in the announcement this week that it is’s expanding the experimental program it had been running between several French cities, Reims and Chalons-en-Champagne and Toulouse and Montauban – trips of about 30 miles each.
Called BlaBlaLines, it’s being positioned as an option for daily commuters. BlaBlaCar’s president and founder, Frédéric Mazzella, said this week that the service has registered 20,000 subscribers in those cities, with 2,000 return trips each week between Reims and Chalons-en-Champagne and 5,000 between Toulouse and Mantaubun.
Like Uber and Lyft, it’s available via an app just made available for iPhones and Android devices. Once a new commuter is registered, the app maps the route between the driver’s home and workplace for him or her to pick up passengers along the trip.
On the new service’s website, it’s positioned as “the BlaBlaCar app for daily ridesharing.” And it notes that the service is now available in the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris and surrounding cities including Versailles.
It’s an open question whether Parisian commuters will avail themselves of a service that requires them to walk to pick up their ride.
Unquestionably, however, the city is crying for solutions as the capital is one of the country’s two most-traffic-congested cities, and the world’s 35th, according to navigation and GPS maker TomTom. “Traffic is the ill of the century,” Vincent Martinier, the company’s marketing director, told a French TV station in February. “The road network is at a saturation point. There aren’t new roads being built to ease the pressure in the big cities like Paris.”
Interestingly, Reims – site of BlaBlaLines’s experiment – is among the country’s least congested. Rémois, as residents are known, spend an average 59 hours in traffic every year, compared to Parisians’ 154.
Uber has struggled against European governments, not least in France where it’s fighting various lawsuits, including one accusing it of running an illegal taxi service and another rejecting its argument that it’s a digital platform and thus should be subject to less regulation than a transportation company.