Soaring fuel prices see French turning to ride-sharing apps

Spiralling fuel prices are powering a surge in global demand for carpooling, the operator of the French ride-sharing app BlaBlaCar said on Tuesday as it passed the 100-million-global-user mark.

French ride-sharing app BlaBlaCar now has 1 million members worldwide
Employees of French ride-sharing app BlaBlaCar, pictured in 2015. Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP

The Covid-19 pandemic spelt disaster for ride-sharing services but since last month travellers have been turning to BlaBlaCar in unprecedented numbers, the French company told reporters on its 15th anniversary.

BlaBlaCar’s CEO and co-founder Nicolas Brusson linked the surge in demand – between 450,000 and 500,000 new users worldwide per week in September, many of them motorists – to the spiking cost of fuel.

“It’s obviously related to the rise in petrol prices,” he said, adding that the company was growing for the first time since 2019.

READ ALSO When and where to get the cheapest fuel in France

BlaBlaCar, one of France’s first tech unicorns (startups valued at over $1 billion), was at the vanguard of the sharing economy, connects motorists with people needing a lift between cities.

The ‘BlaBla’ in its name refers to an original feature of the app, which saw users specifying how much they wanted to chat on their journey, a feature popular with foreigners wanting to improve their French while on the road. 

The company, which employs 700 people, operates in 22 countries.

Unlike Uber, drivers are not professionals, with prices capped so passengers just help them cover their costs.

Brusson did not say how many of its 100 million customers were active users but said 90 percent of the app’s newcomers lived outside of France.

Global energy prices have soared as economies bounce back from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prices of natural gas, oil and coal have all jumped in Europe.

In France, the price of diesel hit a record 1.5583 euros a litre on Monday.

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‘Arrive early’: Passengers at European airports warned of travel disruption

Europe's airports chief told passengers to leave time for delays this summer as the air travel industry struggles to meet surging demand after the pandemic.

'Arrive early': Passengers at European airports warned of travel disruption

“The clear conjunction of a much quicker recovery with a very tight labour market is creating a lot of problems,” Olivier Jankovec, head of the Europe branch of the Airports Council International (ACI), told AFP.

He said there were issues from airports to airlines, ground handlers, police and border controls, but insisted: “The system still works”.

READ ALSO: Budget airline passengers in Europe face travel headaches as more strikes called

“It’s important for passengers that they communicate with the airlines in terms of when they should get to the airport, and prepare to come earlier than usual to make sure to have the time to go through, especially if they have to check luggage,” he said.

Strikes by low-cost pilots and cabin crew across Europe – including this weekend – are adding to the disruption.

Speaking at the ACI Europe annual congress in Rome, Jankovec said airports had taken measures to improve the situation, which would come into effect from mid-July.

“Additional staff will be coming in July, the reconfiguration of some of the facilities and infrastructure to facilitate the flows will also come into effect in July,” he said.

“I think it will be tight, there will be some disruptions, there will be longer waiting times.

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

“But I think that in the vast majority of airports, the traffic will go, people will not miss their planes, and hopefully everybody will be able to reach their destination as planned.”

He also defended increases in airport charges, after criticism from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents airlines.

Airports face “the same difficulties and inflationary pressures” as airlines, which he noted were putting their fares up, he said.

“Staff and energy is 45 percent of our operating costs, and of course inflation is also driving up the cost of materials,” he said.