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Catching a Ride with Hot French Ride Sharing Service BlaBlaCar in Russia

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To get to the Russian capital from Vladimir, a city 200km east of Moscow, locals who can’t or won’t drive do not have a whole lot of choices. The train is the fastest and most comfortable method, but the prices vary wildly – from RUB600 ($9) to RUB4700 ($70) – depending on the train, and the schedule isn’t the most accommodating. Buses leave the station almost every hour, with a trip costing about RUB450, cheaper than any train ticket. But the experience, like in most cities throughout Russia, isn’t the best one: tickets can only be bought at the crowded and poorly lit bus station or directly from the bus driver, while the buses themselves often feel like they should have been retired from service long ago. Some are newer, but there is no way of knowing which one you will get.

But there is an alternative: since 2014 Russians have been able to use BlaBlaCar, a ridesharing service that connects drivers and passengers. Launched in France in 2006, the company has since expanded to 22 countries and is now worth $1.6bn, according to CBInsights’ “Unicorn List”, and is now growing strongly in Russia too.

Sticking out a thumbski

The idea behind BlaBlaCar is to allow private drivers who would have otherwise travelled with empty seats to fill their car – and help cover the cost of the journey at the same time. Passengers can book their trips directly from the website or the app, and know in advance in what kind of car they will ride and who their driver will be. A review system like that which is increasingly found in other service apps like Airbnb and Uber allows the would-be passenger to quickly evaluate the driver. Trips on BlaBlaCar are almost always cheaper than by bus or by train: to go to Vladimir from Moscow usually costs around RUB350 on the ridesharing service; drivers set their own prices, although the app gives a “recommended” price.

This fresh take on travelling has proven attractive in Russia, which has a long tradition of car sharing from Soviet times, when workers could make up their pay by moonlighting as taxi drivers. The company does not give data on individual countries, but Alexey Lazorenko, head of the company’s Russian branch, tells bne IntelliNews it is growing rapidly. “When we launched, we were aiming at 300,000-400,000 registered users in the first year, which was ambitious, but we actually reached a million in just ten months,” he says. BlaBlaCar also tells bne that more than a million people had registered just this summer. On the most popular route, Moscow/Saint Petersburg, more than 300 trips are available at any given time.

Russia’s recession has made punters more cost conscious and they are looking for cheaper ways of getting around. That means Russian car owners are jumping at the chance to offset the cost of journeys. The passengers are also happy to cut the cost of their trip in half or more. “The economic crisis is one of the drivers of BlaBlaCar’s growth,” says Lazorenko. “People want to save money, that’s natural.”

Social networking

But Lazorenko is also keen to stress that the economic crisis alone isn’t enough to explain the company’s rapid growth in Russia. “The social experience, this ability to meet new people, it’s a big factor too.”

Vladimir, a 24-year-old from Krasnodar, has already made more than 80 trips as a driver on BlaBlaCar: “It’s an additional income for me, and it makes my trips less boring.”

This social aspect of BlaBlaCar was initially grounds for scepticism over whether the service would succeed in Russia, according to Lazorenko. Many argued that Russians are “a closed people, who do not trust each other” and a service making strangers travel together would not work. However, Russians proved to be no less suspicious of each other than the citizens of any of the 21 other countries where BlaBlaCar is active. Lazorenko, however, points at one, still unexplained difference with the rest of Europe: Russians tend to plan their trips just a few hours ahead, while in other countries it is usually two or three days in advance.

BlaBlaCar has picked a good time to enter the Russian market, where the population is already accustomed to using online services to get around. The taxi apps like Uber or Yandex.Taxi are already well established in most of the big cities. The French company has brought to trips between cities what those apps did for transportation inside them.

BlaBlaCar is still losing money, but with no direct competition it can take its time to win market share. A 20% commission has just been introduced on passenger bookings on one route, from Ekaterinburg to Chelyabinsk. “It’s just a testing phase,” says Lazorenko. “We are not trying to monetize as fast as possible, otherwise we could probably have started six months ago. The goal is to do things properly.”

With most forecasts predicting several years of low GDP growth, Russians’ interest for a cost-effective way of travelling is unlikely to diminish.

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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