Have you ever looked at the sad, empty seats in your car and thought, “Wow, transportation would be much more efficient and environmentally friendly if every possible seat were filled up?”
Well, look no further! Unbeknownst (and at the moment, unavailable) to American audiences, Uber isn’t the only vehicle transportation app available to the public. Founded in 2006 by Frederic Mazzella, BlaBlaCar is a French rideshare app that offers rides between cities and countries at affordable prices (read: cheaper than train and airplane tickets). Its name is “a play on how much chatter drivers and passengers can put up with on long-haul journeys”, and the company has quickly become the largest ride sharing app in the world, offering service in Western and Central Europe, parts of Eastern Europe, and Brazil. Similarly to how airline companies overbook in order to ensure maximum transport, BlaBlaCar pairs up drivers already headed towards an area with passengers with similar long-distance transport needs.
However, this post isn’t about debating the pros and cons of Uber versus BlaBlaCar– they mostly operate on two separate fields!– rather, it is about examining the differences in their business models, and why these two transportation systems have had such radically different issues in recent years, despite their ostensible similarities.
Recently, Uber has faced a seemingly unending onslaught of controversy, while BlaBlaCar has remained relatively drama free. This doesn’t seem to come from Uber’s higher level of worldwide popularity, but rather, the two companies’ workplace operations. For example, Uber has been accused of “allegedly programming its app to charge customers more while paying drivers less than the full fare, and pocketing the difference” and has gone under fire for removing surge pricing around JFK during New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s boycott of Trump’s travel ban.
Uber’s workplace politics have bled into the national news, and it seems to stem from an overvaluation of efficiency. In this technological age, this may not seem like a bad trait, but it appears to have culminated into a toxic workplace environment. Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, “is driven to the point that he must win at whatever he puts his mind to and at whatever cost”, and he has implemented a similar mindset in the workplace. Echoing this tendency to disregard rules, Uber deliberately violated Apple’s policies in order to attain maximum productivity– they “assigned a persistent identity to iPhones with a small piece of code…Uber could then identify an iPhone and prevent itself from being fooled even after the device was erased of its contents.” While Kalanick ultimately stopped this procedure after meeting with Tim Cook, this pattern of rule breaking has also yielded various reports of sexual harassment and misconduct by many female employees, as the company often ignores bad behavior if the workers in question are high-ranking or high-performing. In other instances, Uber’s intense focus on productivity seems to manifest in some sort of obliviousness during politically fraught situations– which led to the viral #DeleteUber movement. Fittingly, Kalanick himself admitted that he needs to work on his management habits.
Uber is bogged down by its workplace politics; thus, hidden agendas are to be expected– Uber simply lets them manifest in unhealthy ways. Unlike BlaBlaCar, whose direct driver-to-passenger relationship requires less middle management than Uber’s sterile driver-to-passenger relationship, Uber’s company interference seems to have complicated its purpose. While efficiency is the main “technical” purpose of Uber, it seems as if the company tends to forget that its customers do have ethical and moral boundaries (hence #DeleteUber).
Of course, Blablacar and Uber aren’t 100% comparable (Uber operates within a wider geographical area, BlaBlaCar drives passengers longer distances), but they seem to represent two kinds of technological apps emerging from the marketplace– one is focused on curating its own company and business and the other uses already existing mechanisms to its competitive advantage. While Uber’s model is more complex (BlaBlaCar just pairs up drivers and passengers based on conveniency), it gets caught up in its own rampant workplace culture, estranging consumers. Perhaps Uber should take note of BlaBlaCar’s more understated business model, which is quietly and modestly continuing to mobilize.
In the end, both companies are fundamentally changing the game of transportation and defying long-held beliefs of what it means to be efficient. Throughout all this moral and political controversy, it is unlikely that either company will be shut out of business– while the standards for business models have radically changed, the demand continues to exist. While the media has sensationalized Uber’s crisis, it also brings up crucial questions concerning transparency, keeping companies founded on new technology in check within the realm of hazy digital law. In the end, what seems to matters the most is: what are consumers going to put up with?
Screenshot courtesy of Cindy Chen.