French apps thrive during rail strike chaos


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* BlaBlaCar, Drivy see jump in daily activity

* Commuters seek alternatives amid widespread disruption

* Unions plan 36 days of strikes over three months

By Mathieu Rosemain and Caroline Pailliez

PARIS, April 4 (Reuters) – French commuters were angry and frustrated when rail workers began a wave of strikes over government reforms this week, but a handful of apps are thriving on the disruption.

Activity surged on BlaBlaCar, France’s number one car ride-sharing app and among its fastest-growing start-ups, as it does whenever there is trade union action.

“Typically, these strikes allow a lot of people to change their habits,” said co-founder Nicolas Brusson, who said the app handles 50 to 100 percent more reservations on strike days.

Drivy, a peer-to-peer car rental app, said business was up 30 percent on Tuesday, when the first two-day rail strike began. It was up more than 50 percent on March 22, when public sector workers protested against changes to benefits and employees of the state railway company SNCF joined them in solidarity.

Since unions plan 36 days of strikes between now and the end of June, commuters need to get used to finding alternatives to get to work.

Even SNCF stands to gain from the disruption. It owns iDVroom, an app that allows users to find car-sharing options online, an apparent hedging strategy by the company, which is expected to lose around 20 million euros ($25 million) for every day of the strike.

IDVroom said it had four times as many visitors to the site on Tuesday and five times as many downloads of the app.

France has a growing number of start-ups which combine technology and the collaborative economy, something 40-year-old President Emmanuel Macron is keen to promote.

The last big standoff between the government and rail unions was in 1995. In those days before the smart phone’s invention, frustrated commuters had to walk or cycle to work.

“There needs to be a trigger factor that allows people to discover the service for the first time,” BlaBlaCar co-founder Brusson said, adding that the app now had 13 million registered users in France out of a population of 67 million. (Editing by Luke Baker and David Stamp)


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