Use entirely at your own risk: 4 reasons why I will not use car-pooling service BlaBlacars

The Airbnb of transportation, BlaBlaCars, is making an entry into India at a time when taxi aggregators are facing the wrath of the government after a woman alleged last December that she had been raped by her Uber driver.

BlaBlacars model is simple. It connects people looking for a city-to-city ride with car owners going in the same direction so that they can travel together and share the cost of their journey. The name is a play on how chatty members are while riding in the cab. (when filling in their profile, members are asked to specify their level of chattiness on the scale “Bla”, “BlaBla” and “BlaBlaBla”).

So it is basically hooking up people who are driving with those without a car who are heading in the same direction. This creates a new market, and at the same time eases traffic congestion, and helps the environment. Passengers will also be able to save some money as it is cheaper than renting a car, and drivers will get to earn a bit for a trip they were already planning to make. However, it's business model is not fool-proof.

One: It is susceptible to security risks. The only means to validate the credentials of a driver who initiates a journey is by verifying his/her social networking profile on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The other is consumer reviews. In India, forged documents are only too easy to obtain and let's not forget that fake Facebook accounts can be created without any difficulty. Take, for example, the dating application Tinder, which is also linked to your Facebook profile. Security vendor Bitdefender has warned that stolen images of women and fake Tinder profiles have been used to lure users into clicking a link to  suspicious websites.

Use entirely at your own risk: 4 reasons why I will not use car-pooling service BlaBlacars

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If Blablacars wants to enhance safety, rather than asking people who decide to car pool together to pay in cash, it should  ask for credit card details, NRIC or use a two-step verification for added safety.

If you take a look at the Terms and Conditions page of Blablacars India, you would notice that the company does not undertake any background checks apart from validating the first name, last name, age, title, valid telephone number and email address.

"Members agree and understand that BlaBlaCar does not undertake any verification to confirm the accuracy of any information provided by the Members on the Site or to a Car Owner or Co-Traveler, as the case maybe. BlaBlaCar will not be liable to any Member in the event that any information provided by another Member is false, incomplete, inaccurate, misleading or fraudulent." This hands-off approach clearly implies that the onus is on the customer completely.

Two: Blablacar will not give any assurance when it comes to ensuring that the driver's car insurance provides adequate cover.

"It is up to each Car Owner and Co-Traveler to confirm with each other that the Car Owner is covered by valid insurance. The Car Owner must confirm that their insurance policy allows them to carry Co-Travelers and that their insurance policy covers all Co-Travelers and any accident or incident which may occur during a Trip."

Such disclaimers are hardly reassuring given the state of Indian roads and traffic.

Three: There is no regulation or oversight to ensure standards or safety. If you're travelling with a stranger, you carry the entire burden of risk as there are no regulations on car-pooling companies in India as of now, Blablacar claims it shall not be held liable  for any "business, financial or economic loss or for any consequential or indirect loss such as lost reputation, lost bargain, lost profit, lost of anticipated savings or lost opportunity arising as a result of the services provided by BlaBlaCar (whether suffered or incurred as a result of the BlaBlaCar’s negligence or otherwise) except in the case of fraud, wilful concealment or theft." And here too their liability is capped at a measly Rs 1,000!

Four: Women safety is not addressed at all.

The biggest challenge in India is to convince women passengers to spend several hours in a car with a stranger. And this is where BlaBlacars really disappoints. When Firstpost questioned them about their passenger safety procedures, the company said  that every  time two members meet in real life, they rate each other; this means that when you view someone’s profile, you benefit from the past experiences of other passengers/drivers and will know if you can trust them. The organisation monitors all profiles, banning obviously fake images and pseudonyms or usernames. Finally, there is a Support Team (and this is available with all car-sharing websites) available every day of the week that is there to give you information and advice.

But this is hardly sufficient to ensure women's safety, more so in India. When pushed on the issue, Blablacars response was astonishing, to say the least:

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This assumption that women do not travel alone is simply ridiculous.More absurd is not implementing their only-women feature in India.

Take SmartMumbaikar, for instance. It is a ride sharing app within city limits which allows  fellow commuters  to reach out to each other and share vehicles to a common destination. More than 43 percent of its verified users are women. To use the service, you need to register on the site, furnish your home and office locations, mobile number and official emaid id. Once you are verified, you are connected with fellow travellers on the same route through an application which is constantly monitored by SmartMumbaikar. In fact, once you decide to share the ride, the application is updated and SmartMumbaikar is constantly in touch with you till you have reached your destination. You can choose to travel with only women or otherwise.

My suggestion: Use Tripda, another city-to-city carpooling service that launched in November 2014. At least it has the Ladies only filter that allows you to choose the same. Second, every user commits to provide to other travellers, within a reasonable limit, any document and info that will add to the safety of the parties involved, including IDs such as Passports, Driver’s Licenses and vehicle ownership documents.

 

 

 

 

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Updated Date: Jan 15, 2015 13:52:29 IST

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