The service is called BlaBlaCars and I vaguely remember having heard of it before.
The concept is simple: a person travelling between two destinations lets others know, through a website, that there are seats available in the vehicle. For a nominal fee, you can hop in and share the ride.
It’s a bit like a cross between Uber and AirBnB, I guess. Drivers and passengers only communicate via the platform until the ride has been agreed and payment has been made. The driver receives payment at the end of the trip, once the passenger shares the code he or she received after booking and paying through the website. Both drivers and passengers rate one another, and you get to learn a little bit about the person you are about to share a vehicle with through their account profile.
Today was our first introduction to BlaBlaCars. We wanted to visit Albi, a sizeable city about 80km from Toulouse, renowned for its historic town centre and, specifically, its cathedral and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec art collection.
There is a train service between Toulouse and Albi but at €14.10 per person one way, it was just too expensive. Enter BlaBlaCars. For about €24 both of us travelled there and back, in the company of friendly, interesting people, and it was all really convenient.
Our driver from Toulouse to Albi was Cyril, a young personal trainer and the fitness coach of the Albi Rugby Club. He lives in Toulouse and commutes every day. On most days, he tells us, he has paying passengers in the car. The system covers his travel expenses, and is a “moneybox” for him.
Our return trip was courtesy of Manojo, a woman who looks barely old enough to drive, let alone be a procurement and logistics manager for Airbus. Currently on a one-year placement in Tunisia, she’s on holiday in France at the moment and has revived the BlaBlaCar account she’s had since her student days.
Our experience today prompted thoughts about a world that is at odds. In certain parts of it, people are killing each other in the name of religion or ideology – perceived differences that are deemed insurmountable. in too many countries, politicians trade on this “otherness” to incite hate and fear. In our own homeland the most recent election campaign carried messages of division like so many albatrosses around its neck.
And yet, at the level where people get on with their lives, strangers are willing to step into intimate spaces with each other. The interior of a car is really close quarters. Add to that a significant language barrier and you have the potential for an awkward hour on the road. But it was ok. All involved had a “problem” they wanted to solve, and could agree on the terms of the solution. With Cyril there was hardly any conversation because of our non-existent French and his very basic English. Manojo could express herself far better and was a more gregarious character, but even in that car there were long periods of silence – and it was all fine.
What does this mean? I don’t know. All I do know is that today I again had the opportunity to be reminded that there is not a single story when it comes to human relationships. We are not all friends, but we are also not all foes; despite the horrors visited upon us by minorities that insist on philosophies that exclude, we still find ways to share our lives and, in so doing, our intersecting journeys become richer, easier and more interesting .