Posted on July 5th, 2016
As soon as I got off the train, I felt the life of the city pumping through my veins, the diversity, the opportunity, the life.
It is unfortunate that my memory of Barcelona was tainted by my trip back to Valencia via BlaBlaCar. It is a platform that connects drivers and passengers to share the cost of travel. It has more than 25 million members across 22 countries and has been operating for 10 years now.
I was a passenger, along with three of my friends, in my first BlaBlaCar on Sunday, June 19, 2016. We confirmed our ride with Sergio from Barcelona to Valencia, as verified on the app.
Sergio picked us up in Barcelona, and we started our drive out of the city. His car is listed as “comfortable” for four people in his listing, but it is a two door coupe. The car was a mess, he had his personal belongings everywhere, including dirty sneakers and clothes, the AC did not work, and the right side front seat was broken. He also asked if he could smoke, we said no, and he decided to anyway. Other than these initial issues, it seemed like the trip would be fine.
Sergio listed in his profile that he was in town for Sonar, the music festival known for its hard-partying ways. He looked like he had just finished partying all night at the clubs and after parties, and proceeded to show us his VIP wristband, asking if we had gone. He chugged his Coke, asked my friend to open his Doritos bag for him, and smoked again, ash covering all of us.
I have never felt so unsafe in a car before. He was clearly still drunk and or on drugs. Once we got out of the city, he started to swerve in and out of lanes, would switch lanes once he realized he was swerving, and even fell asleep at the wheel several times. He hit 160kph (100 mph) when the speed limit was 75. During all of this, the windows were completely open, no AC, and 85 degrees F outside. We asked him to pull over, and he got off at the next rest stop, 170km outside of Valencia.
We refused to get into the car with him, and asked to take our luggage out. We didn’t have data or service to look up any numbers for BlaBlaCar, so we asked a lady at the gas station ordered a taxi for us. He was confused as to what we were doing and why because of our language barrier. He eventually understood what we were saying and denied doing any of those things. He drove off (and we hope he got home safely).
We waited 30 minutes for a taxi, and paid him to get us all back to Valencia alive.
Our experience was horrifying, and running a business with dangerous drivers like Sergio is asking for murder. We could have crashed, been injured, or worse.
Since our ride, I have been in touch with BlaBlaCar for reimbursement for the cab ride, as the driver could not safely get us back to Valencia. It has been a very difficult process, as the company does not employ any drivers and says they do not have insurance to cover any passengers unless an accident happens or the car breaks down. There is no certification or approval process either; if you have a car and a license, you are allowed on the platform as a driver. Vehicles do not go through an approval process either.
Four phone conversations (from Spain and Paris with customer service representatives and member service managers) later, BlaBlaCar still claims they will not reimburse us for our cab ride since they have no official, ie police, evidence, and they cannot validate our experience. I urged them to create an emergency number and they explained that they tested an emergency number in Paris, and it took too many resources, funds and personnel to continue this and launch in other countries. So basically, BlaBlaCar does not stand for its core offering and would rather continue increasing their bottom line than invest in the safety of their customers.
If the driver were to take a breathalyser, he would have been pulled over for a DUI. Consequences in the states would include a minimum of 1 year temporary drivers license suspension, up to $2500 in fines and fees, up to a year in jail, and high insurance premiums, court-mandated community service and participation in drunk driving education programs, and BlaBlaCar would have been involved with all of this. Instead, they refuse to pay a 400 Euro cab ride.
Thankfully I was able to photograph Sergio’s offenses, and will be pursuing legal action to ensure that