Substitution of Mass-Transit Services

BlaBlaCar is disrupting the long-distance transport markets in Europe, from Portugal to Russia. BlaBlaCar was originally a fringe service that was popular among students and young professionals, with limited routes and timings, unable to meet the standard demand of transportation and therefore to compete with railways and buses. However, as the pool of users grew, indirect network effects kicked in; routes and timings improved to surpass the offerings of public transportation in certain occasions (night services, rural services, etc.). The low prices of carpooling are also a threat to established transport companies. As a result, public authorities in France, the country where BlaBlaCar is most mature, have estimated that BlaBlaCar represented around 12 percent of the passenger-km of longdistance railway person/km in 2015, and might represent 20 percent in 2030 (including passengers and drivers).18

The key question is where carpooling users come from. Are they drivers leaving their car at home to travel with someone else? Are they passengers who previously used trains and buses? Are they new travelers, who would not be traveling if carpooling was not available?

French users were asked what type of transport mode they would have used had carpooling not been available.19 A majority of passengers, 69 percent, declared that they would have traveled by train. Some of them would have traveled with a private car (16 percent) and only a few would have not traveled at all (12 percent). This confirms that BlaBlaCar passengers are mostly migrating from mass-transit low-emission and efficient trains to private cars. The picture is different for drivers: most of them (67 percent) would have continued traveling with their own car had carpooling not been available. Only 8 percent would not be traveling. What is more interesting is that 26 percent of them would have used public transportation had BlaBlaCar not been available.

French researchers have quantified the number of passengers that railways are losing to BlaBlaCar. For 2015, the French railway monopolist SNCF lost 6 percent of its longdistance domestic passengers,20 and it has been estimated that in 2030 it could lose 8.5 percent of passengers.21 Parallel research has quantified that each vehicle-km traveled by carpooling reduced the use of the train by two person/km.22 It can be estimated that the impact on revenue is even larger, as BlaBlaCar mostly attracts passengers paying full-pricetickets at peak time and is less popular at off-peak times, when railway companies offer discounted prices.

Managers of coach services in Spain claim a similar impact upon their long-distance operations. Bus services are popular in Spain among low-income passengers, while rail services, particularly high-speed services, tend to be more popular among high-income passengers. While no significant impact on the number of passengers has been raised by the national railway company, CONFEBUS, the Spanish trade association of bus companies claims that carpooling has caused a 20 percent reduction in the number of longdistance bus passengers.

The position of bus services in Spain is particularly weak, as they are managed under exclusive rights granted for each route by the public authorities. Monopoly rights allow bus companies to extract rent from profitable routes between large cities and fund the provision of services to small towns and villages, which is not profitable, with these rents. If a new transport mode, carpooling, detracts passengers and revenue from profitable routes, the financial position of the bus companies will not be sustainable and the regulatory model will soon collapse.

In conclusion, the existing evidence shows that a large volume of passengers are migrating from long-distance mass-transit services to carpooling. This is the main customer base for carpooling services, with a much-reduced volume of drivers becoming passengers in someone else’s car. Carpooling is disrupting the traditional public transportation markets and the existing regulatory framework.

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