Road tolling can deliver long-term success to the car sharing and pooling markets

Date: Wednesday July 6, 2016

In a very short space of time, peer-to-peer (P2P) car sharing and pooling have grown from parochial, niche and predominantly local schemes into vast national and international platforms with users numbering in the tens of millions and revenues to match. Car pooling platform BlaBlaCar, for example, was founded in 2006 and already boasts over 30 million registered users across 22 countries. It should come as no surprise that BlaBlaCar is France’s only unicorn – defined as a company with a pre-IPO valuation of over $1 billion. Uber, Airbnb and Dropbox are companies which also currently hold this title: fine company indeed.

With success however, has come competition and not all of it in the form of low-spending start-ups. IDVRoom, BlaBlaCar’s largest direct competitor in France, is owned by rail giant SNCF and has close to 1 million registered users. IDVRoom has also been among the most dynamic of car pooling operators, successfully carving market share in the rapidly growing commuter segment.

Earlier this year, iDVRoom negotiated an industry first partnership with two of France’s largest tolling operators, Sanef and APRR. Under the terms of the agreement, iDVRoom will offer its subscribers discounted ETC tags, valid across France’s entire tolled network. Sanef and APRR will also begin to roll out unique services for car pooling customers across their networks.

Few P2P car pooling or sharing platforms currently include any form of telematics or location-based connectivity. Indeed, the significance of this deal does not (yet) rest on connectivity, rather the partnership itself. By providing the DSRC unit and handling payment directly, iDVRoom, not the toll operator, owns the tolling relationship with the customer. This means that discounted tolls have become a value added service provided by the pooling provider in the eyes of the customer. Once the pooling company has a connected device in the vehicle the potential is there to handle the declaration as well.

BlaBlaCar is rumoured to be working on both a mobile phone based connected solution and one which utilises an aftermarket device. France’s market leading P2P car sharing company, Drivy, already offers customers an optional telematics solution, which provides a range of connected services, and has seen the usage rates of these vehicles soar. Drivy currently has over 1 million registered users on its sharing platform, representing over 35,000 vehicles. The company has already moved into Spain, Germany, Austria and Belgium and plans to launch in the UK and other European markets soon. Again, however, it faces strong competition from domestic challenger OuiCar, which has approximately 450,000 users and 30,000 vehicles.

The French market for car sharing and pooling is dynamic and fiercely competitive, but this is nothing unique. With the exception of Zipcar, France has yet to welcome the big OEM car sharing providers such as Car2Go and DriveNow. Across the border in Germany, these two providers alone account for over 800,000 subscribers. Despite this, founder Paulin Dementhon believes that Drivy can reach 10 million users within two years (see our Connected Mobility Global Forecast for a complete quantitative analysis of the global car sharing and pooling markets) .

For this to happen, the likes of Drivy and BlaBlaCar will have to provide users with more value-add than the competition. Owning the tolling relationship and offering discounted rates on tolled roads is, in my view, one way in which this can be achieved. According to ASECAP, there are over 9,000km of tolled roads in France alone, with a further 9,400km in neighbouring Spain and Italy. Encouraging drivers to use these roads when there may be a cheaper (albeit less direct) alternative is the never ending challenge for tolling operators the world over.

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Fierce competition will force sharing and pooling providers to offer value-added services. Each of these companies already have over 50,000 users

Creating partnerships between sharing, pooling and tolling providers is the first step. Integrating tolling technology into pooling and sharing telematics devices, or indeed enabling smartphone-based charging (as has already been tested in Spain – read our blog to find out more) through third party apps would be an ideal way to deliver benefits to both sides.