Blablacar: Hitchhiker's "Guide" to the Next Ride

Automologist, LING, thinks that it’s time to have an open mind about getting into a stranger’s car…or maybe not. Hitchhiking is almo...


Automologist, LING, thinks that it’s time to have an open mind about getting into a stranger’s car…or maybe not.

Hitchhiking is almost a dirty word to me. I would rather walk for miles on a broken heel than get into the car of a stranger who might harbour all sorts of psychotic murderous rapist thoughts toward the unwitting and weak-bodied hitchhiker he had just picked up.

But then apps like Uber and Grab (which is popular in Malaysia, where I live) came along and I was assured that these drivers were reviewed and screened, however superficially, and the apps’ safety features would at least allow my mother to know where to collect my battered lifeless body.

I exaggerate.

But I have truly only just gotten comfortable and survived several experiences with Grab unmolested when I now hear of a hitchhiking app that is taking Europe by storm. BlaBlaCar lets drivers who are going on long-distance journeys to pick up passengers who want to head the same way. The France-based app was launched 10 years ago, a lifetime in the app world, and it is currently in 22 countries and has some 30 million members, accumulated partly through acquisitions of similar hitchhiking "matchmaking" companies in other countries, like Germany, Italy, Poland and Ukraine.

The idea is simple. Drivers enter details of their trip and how many open seats are available. Passengers search for rides based on their intended destinations, and request to join the ride. If you’re wondering why the name “BlaBla” (I did), there is a “BlaBla” measurement on the user’s profile to indicate how chatty they would like to be during the trip (Blah blah blah, geddit?).

Of course there’s the usual user review of each other to offer you a false sense of security that the other person(s) in the car is not a sadistic murderer. There’s also the option to choose only all-female travel companions, but as a feminist, I firmly believe in the capabilities of women to cheat, lie and kill as well if not better than men.

The point of the app is to help drivers offset the cost of petrol and tolls for the journey, not so much for making money, so the app does set a price limit for each trip. For the passenger, the paid hitchhiking trip would always be cheaper than travelling by train or bus; this way, drivers also avoid potential legal issues since they are not exactly making money from it - not technically, anyway.

Leveraging on its homegrown success, Blablacar is working on other markets, namely India among others. Since launching in India in January 2015, the app claims that it has had 3 million seats on offer although I couldn't find verifiable data on the take-up rate. However, I wouldn’t be surprised, if it is successful, that India's largest ride-hailing service, Ola, would expand its service to offer something similar, and with Ola's existing database of over 25 million users, it would offer real competition to the foreign player.

I observe this new development with great interest and optimism - truly - but it would be awhile, maybe even never, before I would get into a stranger’s car to go on a long ride, along which there are ample opportunities and plenty of time for him/her to slit my throat. Well, unless the hitchhiker looks like this...
Growl.
 ...HE can do whatever he wants to me.





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