Going My Way?

Anne Marie Bostyn had a dilemma five years ago when she was left a Fiat Doblo as an inheritance.

She has to travel through the North East frequently, as she works in Edinburgh in the field of work-based training and her family live in Yorkshire, so a car came in handy.

There were, however, other considerations, as she explains.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea to be rattling up and down the country in a large car on my own. It was expensive and didn’t seem environmentally friendly at all. I wanted to keep the car because somebody had left it to me in their will so, to justify using it, I decided to see whether other people wanted to share the journeys.’’

She started a car share scheme through the BlaBlaCar website. Whenever she plans a journey south, she simply posts the details on the website to see if anyone with the same – or similar – travel needs wants to share the journey and the cost.

“More often than not somebody gets in touch to say they would like to share,’’ she says. “I give lifts to a young chap who works at an outward bound centre in the middle of nowhere who wanted to make regular journeys south and was struggling to do it by local transport. We met on BlaBlaCar – I was driving near the centre where he was working so I gave him a lift and we became friends. Now, whenever I’m going down I contact him to see whether he needs a lift and we’ve done several journeys together.’’

Anne Marie, who is 55, has noticed that, in the five years she has been car sharing, the average age of people she has been giving lifts to has increased. Originally many were students, particularly from the Continent where car sharing is more established, but now the age profile has gone up.

“A couple of weeks ago for the first time I gave a lift to somebody who was older than me and it was a lady in her mid-70s who didn’t drive.’’

BlaBlaCar is the world’s largest car sharing community. It has 20 million members across 19 countries. It claims that its drivers save an estimated £216m every year and 700,000 tons of CO2.

Members register via the BlaBlaCar app, through their Facebook account or with their email address. They can also register from the BlaBlaCar website.

Drivers offer their spare seats on the website, indicating their time and location of departure/destination and the number of seats available for sharing.

The price per seat is a fixed price which depends on the distance and associated costs. BlaBlaCar recommends a price per passenger when drivers offer their rides but drivers can vary this subject to a cap.

I gave a lift to a druid. How else would I meet a druid?

Passengers enter the desired departure and destination and book their seat from a list of available drivers who are making the same journey. Not only do passengers have a large choice of drivers, they also have access to their public profile with details such as photo, gender, type of vehicle, previous ratings, experience as a ride sharer, and whether a smoker.

Why BlaBla? Members also specify their preferred level of in-car chattiness on the scale “Bla”, “BlaBla” and “BlaBlaBla”.

Clearly for female members security has to be an issue.

Alice Ackermann of BlaBlaCars says: “Protecting our members and community is the most important thing to us. We have a ladies only feature so a woman driver can choose to have only female passengers and likewise a passenger looking for a ride can click for rides only driven by ladies.’’

Car sharing is not only for one-off journeys but also – as in Peter Kay’s Car Share – for regular commuting.

Zander Wilson, 26, now a post-graduate student at Newcastle University, used liftshare.com – which has more than 550,000 UK members – for about eight months to get to work when he was commuting from Newcastle to Morpeth.

He says: “I found someone who dropped their kids off at school round the corner from where I lived and then drove to work in Morpeth. I lived in Heaton and that meant I didn’t have to get a bus into town and then another bus to Morpeth. It saved me a lot of money and got me to work a lot quicker. I was really impressed by it.’’

It seems that the appeal of car sharing lies not just in the cost saving and the benefit to the environment but also in what has always traditionally been one of the most important aspects of travel – getting to know other people.

“Once they’ve done it once, we find people absolutely love it because it’s interesting and really social,’’ says Ackermann.

This is echoed by Cecilia Bromley-Martin, head of community engagement at Liftshare.com.

She says: “What really strikes me is the feedback I get from people about the wonderful people they’ve shared with and the friendships they’ve made and the fun they’ve had. I could count on one hand the number of people who’ve not liked the person they’ve shared with.

“I’ve shared a lot and at Christmas I gave a lift to a guy who is a druid. How else would I meet a druid? I didn’t even know they really existed. He wasn’t dressed like Getafix, he was just a really delightful, fascinating young man and I never would have met him otherwise.’’

Peter Kay’s fiction, it would seem, is not far removed from fact.