French car-pool app Blablacar branching into bus lines

FILE PHOTO – Frederic Mazzella, founder and chief executive officer of BlaBlaCar, a unit of Comuto SA, delivers a speech at the Viva Technology conference in Paris, France, June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – French car ride-sharing app Blablacar said on Monday it had offered to buy Ouibus, a bus operator owned by state rail firm SNCF, in the first major departure from its digital business model toward building a broader transport company.

Blablacar did not disclose financial terms but said it had also raised 101 million euros ($114 million) in funding from investors including SNCF, which will become a shareholder.

Blablacar’s bid for Ouibus puts the start-up in another league, growing well beyond its initial remit to take on other forms of inter-city travel in France and Europe.

Ouibus, founded in 2012 by SNCF as a low-cost, long-distance operator, is in the process of expanding internationally.

Along with Blablacar and other car-sharing services, it thrived earlier this year when rail strikes by SNCF drivers and other staff disrupted travel in France for several weeks.

Blablacar, which was launched in 2006 and is now one of France’s fastest-growing start-ups, allows motorists to share the cost of a journey with passengers. It has been growing overseas, with Russia for instance among major markets, and its app has some 65 million users in 22 countries.

It has also started offering services like car leases in France through Societe Generale bank, another way it is nipping at traditional transport models.

The latest project would involve working jointly with SNCF, so that travelers booking through the rail operator will also be offered car-sharing or bus options.

“BlaBlaCar and SNCF share the ambition to develop shared mobility at scale whilst limiting the single-occupancy of vehicles,” the companies said in a statement.

Reporting by Sarah White; Editing by Geert De Clercq

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