I took BlaBlaCar for the first time in June. For those unfamiliar with the site/app, BlaBlaCar is a popular French ridesharing platform that allows drivers to post their itineraries, and passengers to catch a ride along the way.
To sustain the company, BlaBlaCar levies a 25% commission fee (min 1€) on the rider, on top of the generally-reasonable prices that drivers set. Riders and drivers can rate each other and leave reviews, so others know what to expect (it’s kind of like Airbnb for road trips).
My friends’ experiences have been largely positive, so I was expecting my ride to go smoothly as well. I normally take the train in France, but I was traveling between Dijon and Troyes, and there wasn’t a direct train–I would’ve actually had to go backwards to Paris before going to Dijon. Luckily, there were several daily rides on BlaBlaCar.
My ride was actually mess, however–my trip actually started in tears. I’ll share the story later, as it’s the basis for my “Cons” section.
We’ll start with the good parts first, and you can also enjoy my tangentially-related snapshots of vintage cars I’ve run into this year. Unfortunately most, if not all, BlaBlaCar rides are in modern cars that aren’t nearly as cute haha.
Pros of BlaBlaCar
1. Get to cities not connected by train
While I love the French rail system, there are several cities that aren’t well-connected by train, or aren’t accessible by train at all. If you look at a map of the French railway system, you’ll notice that the center of France doesn’t really have any stations at all–the connections are all along the edges of the country.
The city I was traveling from, Troyes, did have a station. That said, it would’ve taken me twice as long to get to Dijon by train than by car, because of the inconvenient connections. BlaBlaCar can really help in pinches like these.
2. Usually inexpensive
BlaBlaCar is usually cheaper than a train ticket, especially if you don’t have a youth discount card. My two-hour, ~180km trip came out to 12,50€, including the service fee. BlaBlaCar can be helpful if you’re trying to save some money, but have extra time on your hands–traveling by car is usually not nearly as quick as by train. It is, however, usually faster than buses.
3. Enjoy company for the trip (not so great if you like to be alone)
If your driver is friendly, chatting can be a nice way to pass the time, and practice your French. Some drivers aren’t that talkative though, and some passengers might be introverted, so this could go either way.
My BlaBlaCar Quasi-Horror Story
As I mentioned earlier, my trip actually started in tears. Here’s what happened, so you understand the story behind the cons:
At the time, my ankle injury was making it painful to walk, but I still hobbled the half a mile to the pickup point in Troyes, according to the site.
I texted the driver to let her know I was there, but she called and said pickup was at the train station, not the church listed on the site. Apparently BlaBlaCar sets a random location, and the driver actually decides the pickup and drop-off points–I didn’t know this, and the driver didn’t bother to tell me until I had already gone to the wrong place.
I asked the driver if she could still pick me up at the church, as I had an injured foot and couldn’t walk the 1.5 mile to the station. She refused and told me to figure out how to get there. I called taxi companies, but no one was working Sunday morning. So I sat outside the church and started sobbing.
An elderly man biking by asked me what was wrong. He said that while he didn’t have a car, he could call the driver and advocate for me. So he called her on my behalf, and convinced her to come pick me up at a central location 200 meters away. He even rode next to me until I reached the new pickup spot, to make sure I got there okay.
The driver did eventually come get me, but I’m still stunned by how cold and unsympathetic she was. I understand that she was already running late and didn’t want to push back her other pickups, but I was literally 5 minutes away by car. So, you’ll understand that I’m not the most unbiased source when it comes to BlaBlaCar–my first experience was so terrible that I won’t use them again unless I’m desperate.
Cons of BlaBlaCar
So, here are the cons of BlaBlaCar, based on my experience:
1. Inconvenient drop-off/pickup locations
The driver might set out-of-the-way stops if they’re more accessible by car. Pickup/drop-off is normally at train stations, but you’re really at the mercy of the driver once you book the ride. Of course, you can avoid potential problems by asking before booking, and reserving rides only with highly-rated drivers. My disaster ride was actually with a driver who had 4.7/5 stars over 9 rides, though. I had even asked her in advance if she could drop me off near my apartment in Dijon, to which she responded “hi sure no problem,” but she didn’t follow through.
2. Huge delays for non-direct/multi-city trips
My driver was doing a 10-hour trip with multiple stops, which meant that one delay could have a domino effect on the rest of the trip. This is exactly what happened–she was 30 minutes late coming to pick me up, going out of the way to get me added another 10 minutes, and she needed a coffee break shortly before arrival, which added another 10 minutes.
By the time we arrived in Dijon, we were an hour late. Our driver hadn’t bothered to notify the woman she was picking up in Dijon. Sure, she was driving and using Google Maps, but she could’ve passed her phone to any of us to text the passenger, and asked another person to navigate. The passenger actually had to call to figure out why the driver was already 30 minutes late, only to find out she had to wait at least another 20 minutes.
3. Drivers can lack empathy, not show up, or just generally be irresponsible
As you can see from my story, drivers might not care at all about your well-being. In other cases, they might not even show up (after speaking to my French friends about my experience, I’ve realized that BlaBlaCar actually produces mixed reviews, not largely-positive ones. No-shows have actually happened to one friend on more than one occasion). There is a refund process for no-shows, but it’s just more work for you–you not only have to find a last-minute ride, but also file claims to get your money back.
I also found my highly-rated driver incredibly irresponsible. For one, I had told her that I was a first-time rider, and she didn’t bother to explain the pickup/drop-off location nuance beforehand. As a driver, it’s her responsibility to ensure her passengers have the right information. She should’ve texted me the pickup spot if she hadn’t heard from me the day before the trip. As passengers, we’re paying for a service, so drivers should be more professional.
On top of that, our driver didn’t notify any of us that she would be late. This is the same problem–it’s lack of professionalism, and also disrespect for our time and plans.
Tips for Using BlaBlaCar
It’s pretty obvious that I’m not a big fan of the rideshare app–my first BlaBlaCar experience was bad, despite taking care to find a well-rated driver. If you are planning to take BlaBlaCar, I totally understand that it can be a good option in some cases. Here are my tips to facilitate a smooth ride as a passenger:
- Pick drivers with 10+ good reviews, if possible. Take the reviews with a grain of salt though, as they can still be inaccurate.
- Ask your driver for the pickup place at least a day in advance.
- Opt for point-to-point trips to avoid delays at different stops.
- If you’re planning to bring luggage, ask about the amount of space in the car.
I don’t plan to take BlaBlaCar anytime soon, but I do hope that any rides you take are much more pleasant than mine was!