Wednesday, August 10

BlaBlaCar Beats Pre-Pandemic Pace with Sight on Bus Liberalization

More and more sectors can announce their return to figures similar to those recorded before the pandemic. One of them is shared mobility, which was one of the most affected by the coronavirus crisis but is already retracing its steps: BlaBlaCar recorded the last Pilar bridge (from October 9 to 12) its peak of trips made by its users in Spain. It exceeded its previous limit of journeys made during the 2019 All Saints’ Bridge by 2%.

“Spain has been the first country to reach this goal of returning to 2019 figures, which has surprised even us,” said Florent Bannwarth, director of operations for Spain and Portugal of the service to organize shared trips, which now celebrates 12 years of activity on the peninsula. The milestone consolidates the figures recorded in the last two weeks of August 2021, when the number of trips that were organized in the same period of 2019 was also slightly exceeded.

Spain is a “mature market” for the French company, Bannwarth said. 37% of young Spaniards between 18 and 35 years old have an account in the application, although their audience “is increasingly diverse. In fact, the average age of users is already 32 years old,” revealed the head of BlaBlaCar . In total, 7 million Spaniards have registered in the service, Andalusia, where one in four people have an account, is the autonomy that has achieved the greatest implantation. The average distance of the trips booked in the app in Spain is 270 kilometers and the average price is 12 euros.

Despite the good numbers, the company sees room to grow. “We know that shared car journeys represent only 5% of long-distance trips made in Spain”, details Bannwarth: “Sharing a journey as a driver or looking for a shared car as a passenger is going to become very natural in the next years”.

To sustain this growth, the company (which has 100 million users in 22 countries) raised 97 million euros from different investors last April. Part of it was invested in the purchase of the Ukrainian bus company Octobus, which specializes in managing routes and fleets using artificial intelligence. Its objective is to multiply its offer in this sector, with which it currently connects some 400 European cities, especially in France and Germany, and which already represents 20% of its global business.

In Spain the booking of trips in BlaBlaBus is also available, but only for trips with origin or destination abroad. “We are progressing more and more towards multimodality and intermodality. For two years we have had BlaBlaCar buses, which are long-distance. In Spain, due to the peculiarity of having a concession market, we can only operate international lines, with buses to the letter that leaves from Barcelona or San Sebastián, for example “, has detailed Bannwarth.

This situation, however, could change soon.

“When we analyzed the sector we realized that there were concessions to road passenger transport companies that had been in place for 25 years, which caused us the alarm, but when we continued investigating we found that there were concessions that had been in place for 100 years. This cannot be” , recognized in 2019 the then president of the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC), José María Marín Quemada. “It is the tip of the iceberg of a serious problem we are working on,” he added.

With the pandemic crossing the road, the CNMC is expected to publish its recommendations to renew the bus sector imminently this fall. The choice will be between maintaining the current concession system or facing a liberalization like the one that the railway sector has just faced.

Road passenger transport is characterized by being a highly atomized market. In Spain, some 3,200 concession companies provide service, which have about 45,000 buses. The main employer in the sector, Confebus, advocates maintaining the current system. SMEs and other associations such as Anetra, which groups 10% of companies, are calling for the liberalization of some lines.

“We believe it is necessary to change the current concessional model towards a mixed system that combines liberalized and profitable lines with others necessarily compensated by the Administration, a practically unanimous sectoral model in all the countries of the European Union,” they request from Anetra.

“Madrid-Barcelona is profitable in a traffic that starts in Madrid and ends in Barcelona, ​​but along the way there are many towns that are also served by the line. If you leave it to private initiative, they will put it directly and everything in between will not it would be taken care of. And if the contract with the Administration forces you, it has no more noses to do it, “they allege from Confebus.

Pending the decision of the CNMC, companies like BlaBlaCar position themselves to enter the market if it is liberalized. Regarding the need to attend intermediate stops between large cities that concentrate the demand of origin and destination of the journeys, the app has presented this Thursday the results of a system that it has called “Boost”. Introduced in June, this technology sends ride reservation requests to drivers when they have the ability to pick up a passenger somewhere in the middle of their route.

“We can say that in Spain today 20% of the trips made in BlaBlaCar are made thanks to this technology,” Bannwarth revealed. In BlaBlaBus, expenses are not shared as with the car sharing service, but it has a traditional model of ticket sales and price according to demand.