Traffic congestion and long commutes are a way of life in cities around the world. One Canadian company is trying to change that by launching a new carpooling service to take the stress and the hassle out of your commute. Blancride, is a new app that connects commuters who are travelling the same route and lets carpoolers arrange their rides on their mobile phones. Kim Parlee speaks with Hamid Akbari, founder and CEO of Blanclink on MoneyTalk.
Or if you drive, you certainly know how it feels to be stuck in traffic after a long day at work.
One company has set out to make your commute more efficient, and frankly, more enjoyable.
Here to tell us more about this service is Hamid Akbari.
He is founder and CEO of BlancLink.
He's also professor of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
It is a pleasure to have you here.
Thank you, Kim.
The company is BlancLink.
The app that we're going to talk about today, though, is BlancRide.
What is BlancRide?
BlancRide is a carpooling app.
It allows you to conveniently go from home to work and work from home.
So, for example, if you're coming from Mississauga, Toronto, and vice versa, the trip is not necessarily short.
It's typically 25, more than 25 kilometer.
And then it allows you to quickly find another person who's traveling the same route and then have a trip that is more convenient, more fun, and more affordable.
I think we've got some pictures here.
We can show people what the app looks like.
So again, this is for people who have a bit of a longer commute.
It is a regular commute.
And you came up with this because I understand that your commute, where you live in Toronto and commute to Oshawa.
I was driving from Toronto to university, University of Ontario School of Technology.
Typically, it's a one-hour drive.
But in a traffic jam, it becomes three hours.
And it's not fun driving three hours.
So I thought actually we could connect people so that they can carpool, share the ride, and actually have fun, expand the network, having good conversation.
And then also we've reduced the number of vehicles on the road, which means we help the environment, we help the traffic.
So let me ask-- so let's do a real example.
Let's use your example right now to Oshawa.
So hopefully it's not three hours on a regular basis, but it's a long commute.
You go on the app because you're already driving, right?
So you have a car, you're doing it.
Do then other people who are looking for rides also go on the app and say, oh, I'm going to Oshawa, too?
And then you guys group up together, is that how it works?
Or initially, when actually sign up with the app, you input your home and work location.
And a regular person very much would like to look for carpooler, or if you're driving or would like to actually be offered the ride, you're looking at the app and see who is going that direction.
And then you just pick the person if you like is the right person for you to share a ride with.
And then you're traveling together, and we split the costs.
So you had a chance to get to know them.
Is that before you-- Exactly.
So actually, we made the app very social.
So before even you start the ride, you have an approach to chat with the other person and look at their interests and make sure actually you're going to have a meaningful conversation, or you're going to expand your network with the right person.
So app is very social.
It's not just about splitting the cost of the ride.
It's also about meeting the right people and expanding your network as part of your daily commute.
Let's bring up-- we've got some statistics here.
This comes from the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.
The average commute time in Toronto-- 65.6 minutes-- crushes my soul just saying that.
Montreal-- 62 minutes; Vancouver, 60 minutes.
So at least to your point, you get to spend time with people.
How much does it cost?
What is the average cost right now for-- obviously, the person who is giving the ride gets the money.
Is this done through Visa or through a credit card of some sort?
Yeah, it's automatic to your credit card, your Paypal account.
And actually, it's a good comparison because their cost of operating a vehicle every single day is about $29.
Now, within the app, that long commute is going to cost on average $8.
So actually, it's going to cost less to get a door-to-door service and carpool rather than operate your own vehicle.
And if you are operating your own vehicle, you get to pay for it and it pays for your parking.
Actually, you could fill your empty seats and you cover that cost of operating the vehicle.
Now, I understand you're a professor.
We talked about that.
And you've got students who are kind of helping you figure out what worked and what didn't.
What did you learn or what have you learned over time from your students, your customers in terms of maybe women or men?
What's the difference in terms of how people like to commute?
So one of the biggest things that we noticed quickly was that their adoption.
Carpooling is a behavior shift.
So typically, people don't have other strangers in their vehicle.
So it's going to be about shifting that behavior and it's going to be about building that trust, actually.
And that's a lot of time to spend to build the trust in advance.
And you mentioned the female and male.
Actually, there is significant difference between adoption of female in the sharing car versus male in the sharing car.
I've noticed females are a lot more attentive to the trust.
So we actually build various mechanisms in college to make it easier for female to feel safe and ensure their trust and safety, which is a big thing for early adopters, especially female adopters.
Uber-- how are you different from Uber?
Uber has something called UberPool, which I think is if you're going in a certain direction, you can opt to get into a car with somebody else.
And it costs less than just taking an Uber ride or anything like that.
How are you different?
There are two differences between Uber and a social carpooling like BlancRide.
Number one-- an Uber driver actually is earning a living or making a profit for the ride.
With BlancRide, you're not making a profit.
You just split the cost of the ride.
Number two-- an Uber driver take you anywhere you want, like a chauffeur.
With BlancRide, you're going from home to work or school or place of convenience and on your way, you pick up another person.
And number three, Uber is an efficient taxi, whereas BlancRide is a social platform for you to actually expand your network.
What's been the feedback you've had from drivers?
What have they had to say about this?
It's interesting that we have a lot of people with BMW or Tesla who are driving the platform.
And initial was wondering, like, these people are relatively high-income, why they're offering a ride?
And a lot of people actually love riding their vehicle, and this is an opportunity for them to actually share that ride and their vehicle experience with another person, meet new people and new friends.
Also on the cost side, typically if you're carpooling every single day, it means that on a monthly basis, you would recover like about $600 to $500 per month, which pays for your parking costs and vehicle maintenance.
And actually, it's a nice supplement to actually the vehicle costs.
Now, this is what you're doing in Canada?
I should mention that your technology team is not in-- or some of them are in somewhere else-- Venezuela.
What are you doing down there, because you're launching a company or you've launched a company down there, as well?
So from the beginning, we noticed that Latin America has huge potential.
It's growing very fast.
So we also build offices in Venezuela.
And they're amazing people, super talented, very family-oriented.
It was a lot of fun working with them.
We have a second product customized and adapted for Latin America with even more trust features, and that second product called Nexo actually unite all taxi lines behind one brand, very recently 120 taxi lines collectively joined the platform.
And no matter which city you are located in which country you're located, could easily and efficiently hail a taxi with that platform.
And so that is right now, you were saying, is it in, I think, it was Maracaibo in Venezuela?
Yes, we had a pilot launch in Maracaibo, like we get tens of thousands of users very quickly, amazing traction two, three months.
And from there, now we expanded to Caracas.
And we have an aggressive expansion plan to Panama, Colombia, and other cities in Latin America.
It's growing very fast and we have become, actually, the dominant taxi-hailing platform in Latin America.
Isn't that fantastic?
Now, is Uber in Latin America right now?
Uber has limited presence in Latin America.
It's not like North America.
It has limited presence to certain cities, but definitely Uber is far from the dominant player in Latin America.
I've only got 30 seconds.
I'm going to ask you a big question for 30 seconds, but it is what do you want, like what does your business look like three, four years from now?
What do you want to be saying about it?
North America, I would like to see that transportation will change radically.
We’ll see public, like easier access to public transit and we make it happen.
And people could drive for fun, but they don't have to take their vehicle out if they have easy carpool and easy rideshare to a destination.
Well, fantastic having you here.
Best of luck.
We look forward to hearing what happens.
And again, thanks for coming in.
Thank you, Kim.
Hamid Akbari-- he is CEO and founder of BlancLink, and he joined me in studio.