Art & Culture

Published on May 11th, 2015 | by Molly Montgomery

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Carpooling in the United States versus France

Americans who associate Europe with efficient public transportation and high-speed trains might be surprised to discover the popularity of long-distance ridesharing in France. The leading rideshare startup in Europe, BlaBlaCar, which is based in France, now boasts over 10 million users in over 10 countries. Meanwhile in the United States, companies that have tried to break into the carpooling market, including Zimride and Ridejoy, have repeatedly failed. What accounts for this difference? Is it culture, geography, economics, or maybe a mixture of all three?

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Carpooling. Photo by www.lesalondelaphoto.com.

The most obvious factors are the price of gasoline and the levels of car ownership the United States versus France. In the United States, gas prices are lower and more people own cars (there are 809 cars for every 1,000 people, while in France there are only 578 cars for every 1,000 people). Since driving is more expensive in France, more people are willing to offer an empty seat in their car to a stranger, and people without cars are more likely to look into ridesharing options. As much as the high-speed trains in France are praised, they can be very expensive, especially if you buy your ticket last-minute. Therefore, most people arrange to carpool a few days in advance, and the price can often be cheaper than taking the train.

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Los Angeles traffic. Photo by www.123rf.com.

In the United States, on the other hand, more people have cars and are willing to drive long distances on their own when taking a weekend trip. The United States is a vast country with cities that are spread far apart. For example, a very common long-distance road trip in the United States spans 382 miles (614 km) from San Francisco to Los Angeles, while the average ride on BlaBlaCar is only 200 miles (322 km). In the United States, if you share a ride with a stranger, you must be willing to spend a long time in the car with them, which might deter some people from trying out a ridesharing service.

Also, Americans traveling on road trips like to have the convenience of a car once they arrive at their destination, in part due to the lack of good public transportation options. If you hitch a ride in someone’s car to a city, once you are dropped off at your destination, you might not have a means to get around the city.

Some people suggest that Americans are less willing to use ridesharing services like BlaBlaCar because they are less trusting of strangers than Europeans are. Perhaps this is true. When Americans do carpool, they tend find rides by reaching out to networks of people they already know. For example, college students who live a long drive from campus reach out to their friends and ask them for a ride home for the weekend. If they can’t find a ride among their immediate friends, students often post in Facebook groups affiliated with their university to ask to share a ride. However, some braver Americans also use Craigslist or other rideshare services to find long-distance rides.

While BlaBlaCar has not yet expanded into the U.S., there are still similar services in the U.S., such as Carpooling.com, although so far they have not gained much traction.

The idea of long-distance ridesharing is strange to many Americans, who might believe it is not much different from hitchhiking. Hitchhiking, standing at the side of a road and sticking your thumb up until someone picks you up, is seen as a risky endeavor in the United States, although many people still practice it. However, short-distance carpooling is very common in the United States, with many people arranging regular carpools to get to work or to school. These carpools are usually organized by co-workers and neighbors without the help of any outside services.

On the other hand, in the past few years a different breed of ridesharing has become popular in both the United States and in France: mobile applications like Uber and Lyft that replace expensive taxi services. Services like Uber will pick you up at your own house and drop you off at your desired location, eliminating the need to worry about parking or having a designated driver for a night out.

Whether you plan on using rideshare for short or long distance trips in the United States or in France, paying attention to your safety is key, especially if you are not in your home country. Be sure to verify the credentials of your potential driver and stay clear of any ride postings that are vague or suspect.

Ridesharing is a good option for both French people and tourists traveling around France, and it is possible to do in the United States too if you know where to look. And if you have extra seats in your car for your next road trip, you may want to offer those seats to strangers. You will make a little extra cash, and who knows, you might meet someone interesting.

Headed photo: www.caradisiac.com


About the Author

is an English teaching assistant at a high school in France and a recent graduate of UCLA, where she studied English and French. Her writing has been published in *TravelAge West Magazine* and in various literary journals including *Westwind* and the *Blue Lake Review*.



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