May 6 - Sharing your car, or your home - it's a trend that's growing among cash-strapped Europeans. Car-sharing company BlaBlaCar already has 7 million members across the region, connecting drivers with empty seats in their cars, with passengers needing a ride. Joanna Partridge reports
Julia Rostek's been visiting her boyfriend in Berlin. She's about to drive 500 kilometres home to Dortmund in western Germany - and she'll be sharing her car with strangers. SOUNDBITE: Julia Rostek, BlaBlaCar user, saying (German): "It's great to have company for the ride, but it's also a question of money for me. I'm a student so I don't have a huge income. One journey costs me around 50 euros, so it's good if I can share that with someone." She finds passengers using car-sharing company BlaBlaCar. It's one of many similar websites and the trend in cash-strapped Europe is growing. Her travelling companion Riccardo Motti also shares rides back home in Italy. SOUNDBITE: Riccardo Motti, BlaBlaCar passenger, saying (German): "I think I'm saving 30 or 40 euros today, and I like meeting new people." BlaBlaCar has 7 million members. It's free to sell or look for seats, and the company takes around 10% of the booking fee. Nicolas Brusson is one of the firm's three founders SOUNDBITE: Nicolas Brusson, Co-Founder of Bla Bla Car, saying (English): "Passengers go on the website, very much like they would go on a train website or a bus website and they book those empty seats.So essentially we end up creating a new transport network" The company's the leading car-sharing site in its home market of France. It's even been described as a competitor by the President of SNCF, the French railways. BlaBlaCar operates in 12 European countries, and as it expands it's opened several small offices like this one in London. Their main challenge in new markets is alerting consumers to the benefits of car-sharing. PTC: Ride sharing has been popular in Germany for decades and BlaBlaCar says that does some of the work for them in finding drivers and passengers. Elsewhere they've had to rely more on word of mouth and social media to grow the community. BlaBlaCar sees the social element as key - drivers and passengers also review each other. The "BlaBla" rating even shows how talkative they are. SOUNDBITE: Nicolas Brusson, Co-Founder of BlaBlaCar, saying (English): "Things changed quite a lot between 2007 and now with the likes of Facebook, social networks, and also this whole thing around the sharing economy. And companies like Airbnb or TaskRabbit in the U.S., where suddenly it makes sense to share what you have, to share your apartment, to share your car, to share a seat in your car and today it's becoming a lot more obvious that people should do that to be more efficient and save money." BlaBlaCar says it saved members 2 million euros in transport costs in 2013 - and it recently began operating in Russia and Ukraine. It hopes to keep expanding and increasing membership - as Europeans turn more than ever to the shared economy.