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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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Bank of Ireland linked to fund involved in massive European tax fraud

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Bank of Ireland’s services were used by a company involved in a network of hedge funds at the centre of financial transactions, dubbed fraud by a German court, that have cost European tax authorities billions of euro.

The Irish bank’s fund administration unit, Bank of Ireland Securities Services (BOISS), was the custodian bank of an investment fund involved in the scheme.

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Reader question: When must I change to winter tyres in Switzerland?

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While winters have been a little milder in recent years, the snow, ice and sleet can still play havoc with your car.

Landslides and other road damage caused by inclement winter weather can also mean you lose control a little easier. 

Even in city areas, the colder weather can increase the risk of losing control. 

READ MORE: Ten strange Swiss road signs you need to know about

In Switzerland, the law is relatively complex. While there is no hard and fast rule for winter tyres at certain times, you have a responsibility to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy – which means being ready for the conditions. 

When do I need to put winter tyres on – and what happens if I don’t? 

Unlike many of its neighbours – and many cold countries from across the world – winter tyres are not mandatory in Switzerland. 

Therefore, you will not face any penalty if you continue to drive on summer tyres all year ‘round, either on a federal or cantonal basis.  

This is somewhat surprising for people from Austria, Sweden, Finland and some parts of the United States where winter tyres are mandatory during colder months. 

In Austria, for instance, winter tyres are required from November to April, regardless of the conditions. 

In Germany, Italy and Norway, winter tyres are not mandatory on the basis of the year’s calendar, but they are required in certain road conditions. 

However, certain roads can require you to have chains or winter tyres in order to drive on them at certain times.

This will be designated by a sign on a particular road or pass that winter tyres are required. 

Generally speaking, this will be on mountain roads or other passes, rather than in city streets. 

OK, so I don’t have to, but when should I change? 

The Swiss Road Traffic Act (Art. 29) says that all drivers on Swiss roads have a responsibility to ensure their vehicles are in a roadworthy condition. 

In slippery, winter conditions, the best way to ensure that your car does not lose control is to have it fitted with winter tyres. 

There are also insurance obligations to consider. 

The Swiss government notes that drivers without winter tyres may be deemed to be negligent. 

Driving in Europe: What are the Covid rules and checks at road borders?

“In the case of an accident, the driver may be found liable if the car is not properly equipped for the winter. The insurance company may not cover the full cost of the damage or may even take action against the insured person for negligence.”

Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) says that you should consider putting winter tyres on your car if the temperature drops below 7 degrees. 

Auto Suisse says that a default rule to follow is consider replacing summer tyres with winter ones from October until Easter, although this is of course dependent on the conditions. 



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Social media: Why vaccines, paella and ‘tortilla’ trend on Spanish Twitter | Opinion

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The content that gets shared the most on social media is not always an indignant message or an ingenious insult. Sometimes, it can even be pleasant to be on Twitter. This past weekend, the German television network Deutsche Welle published an English-language video special about Spain’s successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This video has been shared by Twitter users more than a thousand times in messages that expressed pride and included the hashtag #marcaEspaña (or, Brand Spain).

The Deutsche Welle video compared the 78% rate of fully vaccinated people in Spain at the time the report was made (the figure is now closer to 80%) to the 69% in Italy, 68% in France and 65% in Germany. Some of the reasons put forward to explain this success, despite a slow start, include widespread faith in the country’s public health system, the media’s scant coverage of vaccine conspiracy theories, and also “the devastating first wave of the pandemic.”

Positive messages about Spain from a foreign source are usually popular on social media. But at the same time it seems that if a Spaniard mentions that the country is doing something reasonably well, such as the vaccination campaign for instance, their fellow countrymen have trouble believing it. The impression (not always off base) is that the speaker has an axe to grind or may be trying to sell us a story (or even worse, a flag). But if a foreign media outlet says the same thing – well, we may not be fully convinced, but at least we enjoy hearing it.

And it’s not just with crucial subject matter such as vaccines. It also happens with other less critically important issues, such as Spain’s famous potato omelet, or tortilla de patatas. When a reporter from The New York Times extolled celebrity chef Ferrán Adriá’s version, made with potato chips from a bag rather than freshly sliced potatoes, it prompted nothing but satisfied tweets. But messages about the same recipe shared before the article came out showed a marked difference of opinions, to put it mildly.

It also works the other way around: when our dear old Spain comes under attack, we view it as an affront requiring revenge. There are still Twitter users out there who have not forgiven British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for making a paella with chorizo in 2016 (at the time, some people compared his creation with the notorious botched restoration of a Christ figure in 2012).

And let’s not forget what happened to an Italian citizen who tweeted this summer that Spain was like Italy, but a bit worse. I will refrain from mentioning his name because he has already put up with enough grief. “Hey guys,” he amusingly tweeted afterwards. “Just checking, does ‘me cago en tu puta madre’ mean ‘I respectfully disagree’?”

I don’t think that Twitter turns us into patriots, fortunately enough for everyone. There’s no doubt that a lot of different elements are at play here: it’s easier to praise the Deutsche Welle video if you are a supporter of public healthcare (or even of the government). As for the food disputes, there is a lot of joking and pretending going on there. There is also an element of surprise: while we find it normal for there to be talk in Spain about the US, the UK or Germany, we are surprised every time Spain is mentioned abroad, and that’s because we tend to view ourselves as rather insignificant (which is understandable). And I’m also not ruling out the view held by some that focusing so much on what the foreign media says is, in itself, quite provincial.

But it’s also true that we should all find some joy in the fact that, once in a while, we can work together to do something well. And perhaps even celebrate with a good tortilla de patatas. I won’t go into whether it should have onion in it or not, because I don’t want to ruin the moment with another argument.



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