Freedom of Mobility is Freedom to Socialize for Real

September 14, 2023

Image of Frédéric Mazzella Image of Frédéric Mazzella

During the Forum’s 2023 live debate, panelist Devesh Shah raised the subject of shared mobility pointing out that on most trips typically only one seat in a car is occupied.

Following up on this theme, the Freedom of Mobility Forum had a conversation with Frédéric Mazzella, the Founder and President of BlaBlaCar (world leader in carpooling with 100 million members in 20 countries) and Captain Cause.

We got his perspective on how shared mobility can contribute to freedom of mobility for all.

What innovations do you believe will shape mobility in the future?

Now that our living and working places are decentralized, mobility is key to meeting many of the needs in Maslow’s famous pyramid such as food, employment, friends and family. But should we continue to come and go everywhere, just because innovation allows it, at the risk of damaging what we already have?

The health crisis has only amplified the attraction of these opposing forces: on the one hand, our vital need to get closer, to keep a human connection, and on the other, the urgency of a transition. The good news is that the crisis has also strengthened our ability to adapt and embrace change. And the mobility sector offers immense room for innovation.

Among all the potential avenues of exploration, I retain there is not one but four game-changing innovations which create a new CASE for mobility: Connectivity, Autonomy, Sharing and Electric

Connected mobility makes all game changers possible
The digitalization of almost everything has led to the development of new transport offers in cities and rural areas. Mobility is now in our pocket: no more maps, we have navigation tools, both in cities and in rural areas. One click is enough to unlock a scooter, a bike, order a taxi, even book access to the whole range of more traditional means of transport such as trains, buses, metro, and trams. Digital technology simplified the access to mobility and is now opening the door to the second game-changing innovation: autonomy.

Autonomous mobility is not only for a “happy few”
Do you know that the world premiere of autonomous driving was in 1983, in Lille, France where the first autonomous metro line was inaugurated, just twelve years after the patent for the invention of the integral automatic driving system was filed. So, contrary to what one might think, autonomous innovations are not just for the “happy few”. But when will those underground autonomous vehicles rise to the surface? Well, they are already a reality in some places. In urban centers, autonomous mobility is likely to be concentrated on centralized fleets of vehicles available on demand. 

Shared mobility leads to the avoidance of significant CO2 equivalent emissions
These technical innovations and our digital ease have made it possible to bring out innovations of use: the possibility of sharing the historically-used-individually means of transport. The sharing economy is profoundly transforming our relationship to mobility. 

France pioneered this sector and today is the country with the highest level of carpooling per capita, both for long distance and daily commuting. However, in almost all countries, commuting is still a “one-person-on-board activity” on 9 out of 10 trips. With carpooling, the occupancy rate on long distance trips (250 km on average) increases to 3.9 people per car which leads to substantial avoidance of CO2 emissions. As an example, with BlaBlaCar users alone, we already save more than 1.5 million tons of CO2 per year, which more than offsets the CO2 equivalent emissions related to road traffic in a city like Paris, including from buses and on ring roads. It also reduces the overall pollution from our travels.

BlaBlaCar - Projected CO2 Emissions Savings (2018-2023)

Graphic of Carbon Emissions Savings Graphic of Carbon Emissions Savings

Source: BlaBlaCar / Le BIPE

Note: Estimated CO2 emissions savings by BlaBlaCar users up to 2023 according to the “Zero Empty Seats” study conducted by consulting firm Le BIPE.

Electric mobility is shaping the immediate future
The electric car is an old dream, as the first prototype electric vehicle was designed from a carriage by Robert Anderson in 1830. The arrival of the Ford Model T caused the pursuit of electric cars to fall into oblivion until 1973 when the first major oil crisis and OPEC embargo on the United States reshuffled the cards in terms of our dependence on fossil fuels. Today, the ecological, geopolitical, and physical context makes the urgency for electric fleets very clear. Electric is, for sure, a viable technology for the immediate future.

What should mobility look like in 10, 20, 30 years to preserve freedom of movement for all in a low-carbon world?

Those four game-changing innovations are paving the way towards a more important objective: they enable the mobility sector to maintain its relevance and modernity in a fast-changing world. We must collectively put innovation at the service of humans and not the other way around. Designers of mobility solutions must consider three prerequisites: environmental impact, social impact, and accessibility.

First, not reducing our ecological footprint is a step backwards on what our species needs to survive! I am not sure we could still talk about innovation in that case. What we need is not what we desire. Sometimes the most eco-friendly energy we can use remains our own. For example, by simply using a bike for short distances. Technological innovation should not be divorced from common sense.

Second, mobility should also be designed to create social tiesMobility is a driver of discovery and wonder, and not only geographical! It is also a fantastic enabler for human relations. The BlaBlaCar “Getting Closer” study in 2016 showed that:

  • 60% of members use the service platform to see their loved ones more often
  • 50% of members say their travels with a shared ride are with a more diverse group than their usual circle of associates
  • 21% of members say they have revealed intimate things during a shared ride that they had never told anyone before

Meaningful Conversations

“Over the past 12 months, has carpooling with BlaBlaCar allowed you to...?”

Image of BlaBlaCar Survey Image of BlaBlaCar Survey

Source: BlaBlaCar / Le BIPE

Note: Figures from a survey conducted by consulting firm Le BIPE with participation of 4,733 BlaBlaCar members from 9 countries. 

So, not only does carpooling offer more opportunities to strengthen existing social ties, but it also creates bonds between those who may never have crossed paths before. These new encounters create new social exchanges and meaningful conversations or even revelations and enhance solidarity and tolerance on a global scale! Could carpooling then be the biggest therapist in the country, and maybe even a contributor to world peace?

Finally, accessibility is a must have. What is the purpose of mobility? For a long time, it has been “make the world accessible to all”. Today, we are at the limits. Should we travel as much by plane? The effort to be made here is to ensure that accessibility comes with the two other prerequisites: the creation of social links while limiting our carbon footprint. Our four game changers will help us succeed in making the most balanced choices when deciding the way we move. 

Could the solution be intermodality?

Absolutely. Intermodality could be the fifth game changer! We will be able to combine everything! From A to B: a portion of the ride by train and then by electric car, or a portion by bus and then by bike etc. all immediately accessible via a few pre-paid clicks, and voila! This is the holy grail, also known as Mobility As A Service (MAAS). For an optimized journey that is fast, simple, and ecological, we will use several means of transport one after the other, like links in a chain.

Each crisis generates ideas and avenues for innovation. Technology has a key role, of course, as long as we put it at the service of as many people as possible, at the service of a better collective future. Innovation must support the shaping of resilient solutions, bringing both positive and sustainable impacts. By making “impact by design” choices in mobility, our relationship to transport will then be completely transformed. We will no longer limit the concept of mobility to vehicle ownership but rather expand it to fully enjoy our freedom of movement, discovery, and wonder!