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Cooperative mobility is making its way

17.01.2020

Have you ever wished there were a carpooling service where the driver received 100% of the money changing hands? In contrast to industry giants, a handful of tenacious small players are steadfastly defending the pioneering spirit of collaborative, commission-free mobility.  

Commission-free carpooling might seem idealistic, since the vast majority of cooperative mobility platforms now charge a service fee that can quickly drive up the final price. Blablacar, the world leader in carpooling, says on its site: “The amount of service fees for a ride is between 0% and 25% of the amount the driver is asking for the ride. It is calculated based on various factors, particularly the distance and price of the journey.For example, there is a €4 fee for a ride costing €19.And a fee of €6 for a €27 ride.”

Back-to-basics carpooling with Mobicoop

But that hasn’t always been the case. When it started out, Blablacar was a commission-free service called covoiturage.fr, designed as a friendly setup for passengers to pay the driver. But in 2012, the terms of use changed. Blablacar now charges increasingly high fees and has become a “unicorn” company worth more than a billion US dollars. Pushing back against the commodification of collaborative mobility, a handful of users decided to join forces to create the organization Covoiturage Libre which, in 2016, became a cooperative named Mobicoop. “We’re not out to turn a profit.Our goal is for carpooling and more eco-friendly mobility to become a habit,” explains Brune Cangardel, project manager at Mobicoop.

Cooperation free of charge 

Other carpooling players where no money changes hands have emerged, particularly for school drop-offs, including apps Zouzoucar and Cmabulle. The idea is to share trips taking children from home to school or to their extra-curricular activities, by car, by bike or on foot. These platforms were launched in response to the observation that parents live an average of six kilometers away from their children’s school and spend between 15 and 25 minutes getting there, representing up to 5,000 kilometers and €1,800 a year. By creating groups of parents who pool their trips, Zouzoucar and Cmabulle provide a way to save time and money – all without taking a commission.

Remains the tricky question of funding, with effective financial models proving elusive. In crowdshipping, the few attempts to provide a commission-free service have failed. Platforms now charge fees that can quickly become exorbitant, bordering 30% of the transaction price. So how can carpooling services stay afloat without charging their users? Cmabulle, for example, is funded by the areas where it operates, including Lille, Orléans, Le Mans and Dijon. And Mobicoop, to pay its 17 employees, relies on three sources of income: donations, investments from members of the cooperative, and the development of tailored, paid-for services for local authorities and businesses. 

Rezo Pouce, the hitchhiking app for rural areas

To develop its organized, completely free hitchhiking platform, Rezo Pouce first relied on funding from local authorities in Tarn-et-Garonne and Haute-Garonne (southwestern France). The app is a way for hitchhikers to geolocate a driver and vice versa. Mostly used for short trips, such as getting to work or going grocery shopping, Rezo Pouce is well-suited to people living in rural areas where public transportation is not always regular. Waiting times through the app are under five minutes for one in two trips and less than ten minutes for nine out of ten. The platform now also receives funding from major mobility operator Transdev and the Macif Foundation.

The invaluable contribution of volunteers

And in fact, the strength of many these collaborative, commission-free platforms lies in their social and community roots. To spread the word, Mobicoop relies on a committed base of volunteers who run communications campaigns aimed at local authorities or at festivals, for example. “We even have one volunteer, a soccer fan, who has set up a carpool network where he lives in Amiens to make it easier for fans to get to the stadium on match days!” says Brune Cangardel.Mobicoop now has 400,000 registered users and 20,000 trips posted every month, representing growth of 120% in 2019. But, responsible for 90% of all carpooling trips in France, Blablacar still has a near monopoly. 

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