Benita Adesuyan talks to Benjamin de Terssac, one half of Carpool Arabia, about getting Dubaians out of their cars and into those of others to reduce the number of private vehicles congesting the city’s street.
Getting around the city’s roads during rush hour can make your Dubai Dream feel like a nightmare. According to the RTA, there are currently 541 private cars per group of 1,000 people on the roads, with each vehicle rarely carrying more than two people. So it’s no surprise that the city’s highways are frequently congested. One way to relieve this congestion is carpooling. Two entrepreneurs, Guillaume Arnaud and his business partner Benjamin de Terssac, turned this idea into an effective community service – Carpool Arabia. Its website connects drivers who are planning a journey, with passengers who are headed the same way. We caught up with Benjamin de Terssac to find out if this solution could become as common as catching the bus.
How did you come up with this idea?
My wife and I were living in Dubai but working in Abu Dhabi. We thought we could commute every day, thinking the journey would take just 15 minutes, but in reality it takes about an hour and sometimes as much as two. So we decided to contact other people making the same journey. And coming from France where carpooling is very popular, I thought why don’t we try to offer this service in the UAE?
How does the site work?
If, for example, you want to go from Downtown to Dubai Media City, you enter the locations and it will give you all the registered cars available. You can click on each car, see more about the driver, find out what times and days of the week the journey will be made and you can contact the driver or simply book your seat online. When you’ve selected the car you want, the driver will receive a message and has the option to accept or decline. When approved, both driver and passenger receive each other’s contact details.
Do you really think you can tear Dubaians away from their cars?
We are trying to. We have 1,200 users registered on the website and offer almost 300 journeys a day and the numbers are growing; we have a growth rate of 36 percent month on month.
How much does the service cost?
We suggest that passengers pay a contribution based on the distance of the journey, usually it’s the cost of the ride divided by four, but carpooling is not a profitable activity. The price is roughly six times cheaper than a taxi. For example, the journey from Dubai Marina to Abu Dhabi will cost around Dhs35 with us, while it’s Dhs220 in a taxi and around Dhs400 with a private chauffeur.
What was the biggest challenge with setting up this company?
Educating people about the service. A lot of people think carpooling is illegal, but it’s not. It’s legal and regulated. Also some people think they can have a car on demand, but that’s not the case either. Those offering this service are not taxi drivers, just people who want to make the drive more efficient.
How frequently do you carpool?
I offer rides almost every day. Carpooling should become a common means of transportation.
How safe is it?
Very. Everyone who creates an account should fill in their profile as fully as possible. You can add a picture or connect your account with your other social media profiles. The more details drivers provide the more comfortable passengers will feel booking a ride with them and vice versa.
What’s next for Carpool Arabia?
We’re focusing on our community building. Any university, organisation or residential area can create their own ‘community’ on the site and search for rides within their groups. We’re trying to work with universities and especially in places that are outside of Dubai or far from metro stations – Academic City for example. We provide the marketing tools to promote carpooling inside organisations, because it’s not just about having a good website, it’s about getting people to leave their cars at home and jump into someone else’s to make the journey together.