Diana Gomiz recently opted for a new way to reach the French capital from Lille, her hometown 130 miles away: She skipped France’s signature bullet train and hopped in a car pool she had booked on her mobile phone.
“It may take an hour longer, but it costs half the price,” said Ms. Gomiz. “It doesn’t take long to figure out the math.”
The 28-year-old student is one of a growing number of people across France relying on ride-sharing to travel long distances. Driving the change is a homegrown startup called BlaBlaCar that is challenging state-run railway monopoly SNCF by creating an alternative transport network out of empty car seats.
BlaBlaCar has begun to pick up speed, tapping into growing interest among consumers and investors in what Silicon Valley calls the “sharing economy.” The company has expanded beyond France’s borders, recruiting 10 million members in 13 countries who have access to a fleet of more than one million cars to travel across Europe. This summer, it raised $100 million from European and U.S. venture-capital firms including Index Ventures and Accel Partners—one of the largest venture investments in a French startup.