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Car Sharing in France

Thursday 02 July 2015

The practice of car sharing that was once the preserve of youth has now become very à la mode in France, attracting a substantial number of users from all generations and walks of life.

As a result of a young French student finding himself in 2005 unable to find a cheap and easy way home to see his parents at Christmas, an on-line business was started that has largely been responsible for the phenomenal growth in car sharing in France in recent years.

Frédéric Mazzella is the founder of BlaBlaCar, now the undisputed leader in the market, with operations outside of France and a workforce of several hundred people.

However, it is within France that the company has achieved its first and greatest success, with several million registered users and drivers using their peer-to-peer transport network.

It was perhaps not surprising that students and other young people were the first to realise the benefits of 'covoiturage', but what has surprised many observers is the way in which it has been embraced by all sectors of the community.

In a survey undertaken by Vinci Autoroute last year, no less than 37% of those interviewed who had taken a car share were managers or equivalent, 29% were middle ranking salaried employees and 18% workers.

The majority stated that the main reason they used such a service was for economic reasons, but many also declared their interest for ecological or social reasons. Not only can it save you money by car sharing, but it's a way to help save the planet and make new friends, all good reasons that appeal to the rationalist mentality of the French.

Arguably, a great deal of the growth in car sharing has been down to the coincidence of a global economic and financial crisis in 2008 that forced people to look at cheaper alternatives, and to the growth in mobile communications over the past decade.

But it has also been facilitated by the cooperative stance of the French government and participation of many local councils.

Whereas in some countries car sharing is frowned upon by the authorities, in France it has been welcomed, with the government itself adopting enabling legislation and in 2010 even hosting a conference to promote it.

They may be heartened by early evidence that not only is there a strong public service element to car sharing, but that it encourages more careful driving.

A number of local authorities have also played their part, with councils collaborating in the creation of designated parking areas for car share members. Some have even started their own on-line platforms, offering it as a public service, a form of assistance that is unlikely to have been welcomed by private sectors providers.

The growth of covoiturage has largely been for long-distance travel rather an urban home-to-work short journeys. Most of the demand has been from those living in rural areas, and the average length of the journeys around 300 kilometres.

SNCF, the French railway operator, has been quick to see the competitive threat, and so last year set up its own car sharing website, IDVroom, although it is limited to short journey trips to support its cross-country rail network. The operator has even created dedicated parking spaces in many of its station car parks for IDVroom vehicles.

However, there seems little they can do to stop the growth in car sharing impacting on their rail service, as press reports appeared last month of SNCF plans to cut back on the number of inter-city trains it operates.

How It Works

To use a car sharing service is not difficult and most operate in the same manner, within France and elsewhere.

You register with the website as a driver or a user, on which you then advertise the journey being made or search for a lift being offered.

You then pay the charge being requested, after which you are then both sent contact details that enables both driver and passenger to finalise the pick-up point.

In most cases the journey is to a fixed point notified at the time, but it is not unusual for driver and passenger to reach agreement on a variation in the route to change the drop-off point, which may involve a small additional charge.

Driver ratings from passengers are given on the websites and female passengers who may be apprehensive about taking a journey with a male driver are able to see the profile of the driver, from where they can select a female driver if they so choose. Female drivers can also choose to carry only female passengers.

In very many cases there are several alternative drivers offering the same lift and for most journeys there is more than one passenger.

Most reports suggest that the level of punctuality and care taken by drivers is high.

By law, the charge for the journey by the driver can only their actual costs, so there is no need for the driver to take out additional insurance to cover fee paying passengers. They are automatically covered by their standard insurance policy. The websites make their money from commission on the charge.

Charges are determined by the driver, and vary according to the distance and type of vehicle, but they are considerably less than it would cost you travelling in your own car or by public transport, and for those seeking to save on airport parking fees it is a particularly interesting option.

There is speculation that the French government are beginning to take a closer look at the car sharing activities of some drivers, whom they suspect might be effectively running it as a business, but nothing of significance has emerged to date.

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