By Robbie Webber
If you are looking at options for intercity travel, Google Maps transit tab will tell you which buses or trains you can use. And now you can also see BlaBlaCar as an option. But don’t look for that option in the U.S., because the city-to-city ridesharing app is not available here. Why?
French start-up BlaBlaCar has exploded in popularity since its launch in 2006, with more than 30 million members in the 22 countries where it is operational. The service gives travelers a way to book a seat in a car going to their destination in another city at less than the cost of a train ticket. Drivers can fill their extra seats and cover some of their costs. It’s the 21st century equivalent of AirBnB or Uber for hitchhiking.
The drivers and passengers are vetted and rated by other users, and there is an option to not have any “blabla”, i.e., conversation, on the trip. Unlike Uber or Lyft, the drivers are non-professional, and the company imposes price controls to keep costs to passengers low, meaning drivers can cover costs but not make a profit. Drivers are already going to the destination they list; they aren’t looking for passengers before deciding to make the trip.
But BlaBlaCar isn’t available in the U.S. Several analysts have offered reasons why it hasn’t caught on here and why no similar service has gained ground. A Business Insider tech writer thinks that our public transit systems and city structures aren’t supportive of city-to-city ridesharing. Most BlaBlaCar rides are not door-to-door, but start and end at a location convenient to the driver. Without an efficient way to reach the meetup point or get to one’s final destination, a ride between cities is less appealing.
Another commentator theorizes that solo driving is still too cheap in the U.S. to make taking passengers worthwhile. Gas is relatively inexpensive, tolls are uncommon outside the east coast, congestion charges are rare, and individual car ownership is high. Per-mile costs in the U.S. are about one third those of Europe.
Nicolas Brusson, the founder of BlaBlaCar, confirmed these reasons in an interview with the International Business Times. He said that the structure of U.S. cities—much more spread out, with weak transit connections—combined with low driving costs make the U.S. a poor choice for expansion of his service. Although there is nothing stopping drivers or passengers from using the app for trips in the U.S., the company has no staff, advertising, or support here.
So, while transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft are attracting drivers and passengers with a profit-based model for trips within cities, true intercity ridesharing just can’t get a foothold in the U.S.
Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.
By Robbie Webber