Teacher Rocío Ruiz with two travelling companions from Korea, as she heads home to Granada. / MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ

Car sharing has increased significantly in Malaga because fuel costs are so high

The number of drivers offering to share their vehicle for the first time has risen by 20 per cent in March

IGNACIO LILLO

People who need a car to move between towns, especially for work or to study, have been taken by surprise by the major increase in fuel prices for which the war in Ukraine is partly responsible. With an average price of nearly 1.80 euros a litre for diesel in filling stations in the province (1.81€ for 95-octane petrol), according to date from the Geoportal of the Ministry of Ecological Transition, for many drivers fuel is becoming an unsustainable burden on their budget.

With so many people in this situation, the idea of sharing a car has become an interesting option, and thanks to technology those offering and those looking can easily be matched. In exchange for losing a little privacy and independence in deciding what time to set off and which route to take, car sharing can cut the cost of essential travel by half or even more, as it is spread between two or more people.

Apps like BlaBlaCar have now become the centre of mobility for hundreds of people. Car sharing has also become more habitual in major work centres such as the Technological Park and among professions such as teachers, who use WhatsApp groups, social media and platforms set up by companies to organise their travel.

Since the beginning of March, when the oil price reached a record high, the number of trips offered on the most popular app for finding fellow travellers has shot up to over 20,000 each week, and that is just in Malaga province.

There was a 20 per cent increase in offers in the first week of March compared with the week before, acording to BlaBlaCar, for whom Malaga is one of its biggest markets. This is hardly surprising: about 440,000 people in the province are registered with the firm, and that is around a quarter of the population (nearly 1.7 million inhabitants).

Andalucía is the region of Spain with the most users: of the seven million people in the country who use the BlaBlaCar app, two million are in Andalucía.

One of the most common trips in Malaga province is beween Malaga city and Marbella. However, it is in medium-length journeys between provinces that this service has the most users. The average distance travelled by those in Malaga city is 155 kilometres and their principal destinations, in this order, are Granada, Seville, Barcelona, Cordoba, Madrid and Almeria. The average price paid for these journeys is eight euros.

Another interesting fact, which shows how the increase in fuel prices is having an impact on the population, is that the average age of BlaBlaCar users is rising. When the app first came into service, most of the people who used it were university students, but now a quarter of the drivers registered in Malaga are over the age of 35.

Record high

As fuel prices have continued to reach record highs, so have the numbers of people finding alternative ways to travel.

"In the 13 years that BlaBlaCar has been in Spain, we have never seen as many people offering carshares as we are now," says Itziar García Sagarzazu, the company's director of communication and institutional relations for Spain and Portugal.

Car sharing had already become more popular than ever in the last quarter of 2021, motivated to a great extent by the previous increase in the price of fuel.

"In December we carried out a survey of more than 600 users in Spain, and 45 per cent of drivers said they were using BlaBlaCar more often since the cost of fuel went up, to save money," she says. "The latest price rises have exponentially increased that trend".

The rise in the popularity of car sharing is manifesting itself in two ways. On one hand, users who are already registered are posting offers to share their car journey more frequently, and new members are joining the platform "mostly because of the increase in the cost of fuel," says García Sagarzazu.

At a national level, more than 1,000 drivers are joining a day, which is double the number who used to register in a normal week before the pandemic.

Artificial intelligence

BlaBlaCar has also developed a technology called Boost, based on artificial intelligence, which has enabled it to expand in connecting small towns. To give a practical example, if someone is driving from Granada to Malaga and another person wants to go to Malaga from Archidona, the platform identifies that need and suggests to the driver that they pick the passenger up in Archidona.

"That provides a greater chance of the driver saving money, a point to point service for the passenger and it makes it easier for people to travel anywhere they want to go via a more direct route," says Itziar García Sagarzazu.

In 2019 this function accounted for less than ten per cent of shared journeys, but now it is over 20 per cent. "To give you an idea, in the past year BlaBlaCar has connected more than 95 per cent of places in Andalucía," she says.

In addition to all this, there has been increased social awareness of the need not just to save money but also to reduce carbon emissions.

"Most people use this service because it reduces their costs, but more and more users are doing it for reasons of sustainability and efficiency now," she says.

Rocio Ruiz and her Korean passengers, before getting into the car. / MIGUE FERNANDEZ

"I drive to Granada every day and it pays for half the petrol"

They arranged to meet at 2pm outside the Ricardo León de Portada Alta primary school in Malaga, where Rocío Ruiz is a teacher. She is driving her own car, and Chus and Lucas, two young students from Korea, are going to travel with her. They are all going to Granada, where Rocío lives with her family. She drives to Malaga and back every day from Monday to Friday. The boys are tourists, and already have their tickets for the Alhambra. They comment on the muddy dust that covers the car. "It's sand from the Sahara desert, blown here by the wind," she tells them.

They made contact through BlaBlaCar, the platform which Rocío says has been her salvation. "I have been assigned to teach here in Malaga until further notice, and I hope it will be for the whole year," she says. She could rent an apartment, but she has two children, a boy and a girl. "I could stay in Malaga during the week, to be close to school, but I would hate to be away from my family and I prefer to spend the money on petrol for the car rather than rent," she says. She finishes work at 2pm and gets home in time for a late lunch.

However, the increase in the price of fuel has caused problems. "It costs me over 70 euros to fill the car with petrol now, instead of 50, and I use a tank and a half a week," she says. That's between 100 and 120 euros a week on petrol. "It's awful. The price has to go down or a lot of people won't be able to afford to use their cars. I have no choice because I have to get to work, but with the cost of electricity and gas going up so much as well, everyone is finding things a bit difficult," she says.

Rocío knew about BlaBlaCar but had never used it because she didn't really need it. "When they sent me here in September I downloaded the app, but didn't use it because I was quite happy to go to and fro on my own," she says. But then some colleagues who live in Motril and Arahal recommended it, and that gave her confidence.

"I registered with the platform and had my first passenger four days ago," she says. She has travelled with Erasmus students travelling around Spain and a young doctor visiting hospitals as part of her course, and now these two young Koreans.

"I only take two passengers because my daughter's car seat is in the back and it's complicated to keep taking it out and putting it back," she says. In fact, two passengers is all she needs. Although it doesn't cover the cost of the journey, it gives her enough to pay for half of the petrol, "and I'm happy with that. I'm not trying to get other people to pay for all of it, just to help a bit," she says.

She also decided not to offer a car share in the mornings, from Granada to Malaga. "I have to take my children to nursery very early and mornings are quite stressful. I prefer to come to work on my own and then afterwards, when the children are with their father, it is easier to carry passengers," she says.

It also makes the journey seem much shorter. "It's really nice, you have someone to talk to, you meet new people. It helps me, too, because I'm quite tired after getting up so early and then working all morning. Now I'm wondering why I didn't do it sooner. Apart from the help with the fuel costs, I think it is a very positive experience," she says.