“It is absurd to think it makes sense for people to drive cars alone between cities" - BlaBlaCar CEO Nicolas Brusson

“It is absurd to think it makes sense for people to drive cars alone between cities" - BlaBlaCar CEO Nicolas Brusson

Vehicle sharing operator, BlaBlaCar says it has secured backing from Russian and French authorities as its reach continues to expand.

Founders, Frédéric Mazzella and Nicolas Brusson started the service in 2003 after becoming aware of the colossal number of empty seats in vehicles. BlaBlaCar now specialises in long distances, an average of 300km (180mi), connecting drivers with spare capacity and now numbers a staggering 60m members in 22 countries.

"We didn't invent anything," BlaBlaCar CEO, Nicolas Brusson told just-auto on the sidelines of the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum. "We bring people together in the real world. Millions of people we match spend three to four hours together – they have never met. You have millions and millions of connections which would never have happened without us. You can have anyone in the car, a lawyer, a plumber.

"When it comes to regulation, every market we went to we had to do some education. Russia has not been very difficult – what we see is very strong support from the authorities. President Putin was saying customer behaviour is moving faster than regulation.

"How many cars are driving around with empty seats? Most people – 80%-85% - use cars and the cars are two-thirds empty. The biggest capacity in the world are empty seats and if we can unlock that supply, we can create the biggest transport network. "It is absurd to think it makes sense for people to drive their cars alone between cities. It makes no sense.

"Today, everybody has their information on line. Things are changing very, very fast on the consumer side. When you talk about cars being connected and autonomous, it will make a lot more sense. You can build trust with people you have never met – it is like a family member. Within the strict sense of the sharing economy, we are probably one of the few players doing it per se."

Hailing from France both Brusson and Mazella are acutely aware of their countrymen's willingness to man the barricades and this year has been no exception with a paralysing series of rolling strikes by staff of national train operator, SNCF.

The walkouts have triggered chaos for several months now as commuters struggle to reach work and tourists find those few trains which do run, chocked brim-full with frustrated passengers. This however, has seen BlaBlaCar sense an opportunity to step in and offer alternative transport possibilities.

"Now we even get financing from the city of Paris which is subsidising car-pooling during the strikes," added Brusson. "It becomes a a replacement for other means of transport and that is where we fit somewhere in the transport landscape.

"We went from a tiny start-up [and now] we have built trust in the community. You can build trust with people you have never met – ten years ago it felt impossible. Our drivers would do trips anyway [such as] Moscow to St Petersburg and what they do is off-set the cost.

"To me that was the initial definition of the shared economy. The trend is here to stay – better use of assets and decentralisation. It is absurd to think it makes sense for people to drive their car alone between cities.

"If you look forward, maybe long-term, the winners and losers of companies and even cities and countries, will be those who embrace and do not embrace these technologies."

BlaBlaCar and Mail.Ru Group, the largest internet business in Russia by daily audience, also recently said they would work together. As a part of this, BlaBlaCar will acquire Beepcar, the Russian carpooling platform launched in 2017 by Mail.Ru Group.