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Long-distance (mostly inter-city) ride-sharing is becoming increasingly popular in Europe, with millions of people now hitching rides with oftentimes complete strangers on a monthly basis.

This is line with the rise of short-distance (or ‘urban’) ride-sharing communities (see the rivalry in Paris between DjumpHeetch and now UberPop for example), but there are notable differences when it comes to long-distance ride-sharing that we’d like to dive into.

In the United States, all eyes are turned to the likes of Lyft and Sidecar (and Uber to some degree), but there’s an interesting and increasingly intense battle going on in Europe as well, and the differences between the two geographies are quite notable.

More specifically, the race in Europe is on between France’s BlaBlaCar and Germany’s Carpooling.com, with Scandinavian company Ants a potential third competitor down the line.

After an interesting conversation with BlaBlaCar co-founder Nicolas Brusson yesterday, I compared some of the company’s numbers with the latest from Carpooling.com, and found the comparison interesting enough to share with you separately.

A numbers game

First, let’s look at the basic numbers. BlaBlaCar has over 6 million members and claims a million active monthly usersCarpooling.com, meanwhile, says it has over 5 million registered members, but helps 1.3 million people carpool every month.

According to Carpooling.com, the average distance of a carpooling ride is 200 kilometres, or roughly the distance between Amsterdam and Brussels. BlaBlaCar pegs it at 342 kilometres on average, approximately the distance between Vienna and Prague.

The average BlaBlaCar car occupancy is 2.8 people (compared to a European average of 1.7 people per car), a number Carpooling.com unfortunately doesn’t break out (it’s similar). The latter company claims it offers access to 3.5 million car seats on a daily basis.

Neither company can really be considered a startup (Carpooling.com’s roots go back well beyond a decade, and the origins of BlaBlaCar date back to 2004), but both have registered the bulk of their growth in the past 3-4 years, which is a sign of the ‘sharing economy’ times.

BlaBlaCar has secured close to $12 million in funding, Brusson told me yesterday, which is comparable to the $10 million raised by Carpooling.com (according to CrunchBase), although I wouldn’t be surprised if both companies raise more capital at some point this year.

The difference with the United States

In Europe, it’s wise for companies facilitating ride-sharing to ensure that drivers don’t actually make a profit from accepting paying passengers, lest they want to enter murky regulatory territory.

Drivers are instead encouraged to merely offset their costs – the focus is squarely on helping both drivers and passengers save money by sharing a ride for a certain trip.

This is where BlaBlaCar and Carpooling.com differ most from the likes of U.S.-based Sidecar and Lyft, which are considered for-profit ‘transportation network companies’ or TNCs.

It’s also the reason why Carpooling.com and BlaBlaCar have focused mostly on growth in Europe and haven’t really made the jump to the United States yet – although both companies say that might change in the future.

The main challenge

Considering both Carpooling.com and BlaBlaCar are in full growth mode, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say their real competitor is public transport.

Even more accurate would be to say that their real issue is awareness among drivers across Europe, i.e. the fact that most car owners don’t even know about or consider offering empty seats to people who might be interested in hitching a ride.

But because it makes sense for both parties, and because of rising fuel costs and traffic congestion on European roads, BlaBlaCar and Carpooling.com are both in an excellent position to market the hell out of their offering and continue growing in the markets they already operate in.

BlaBlaCar has also adopted a strategy of opening local offices in many key markets, and occasionally making acquisitions (mostly for talent) to grow faster in new markets – take for example its purchase of Podorozhniki last week in a bid to enter Russia and Ukraine.

On a personal note: for someone who travels around Europe as much as I do, I’ve never once used a long-distance ride-sharing service provider to get me to where I want to be. I plan to change that very soon, and I’m actually looking forward to the experience (as an avid Airbnb user, I’m no stranger to the perks of the sharing economy).


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