Social entrepreneur wants to fill those empty car seats

The founder of Carpool Arabia explains why catching a lift with strangers could help improve both your mood and your green credentials

When Benjamin de Terssac told his friends he was quitting his job to start up his own company, many thought he intended to return to his home country of France. But after six years of working in the region, de Terssac had set his heart on giving something back to the UAE and set out to encourage some sharing.

“I wanted to do something that was really needed in the region,” explains De Terssac, who had spotted a gap in the market, where relatively few people use carpooling for their daily commute.

His response was to establish Carpool Arabia. The online service uses a simple social-media style platform to connect passengers and drivers who share a similar route to work everyday. De Terrsac says he saw there were many people commuting long distances everyday, but that there was no easy way for them to get in touch with each other and share a ride.

Benjamin de Terssac is an Internet enthusiast and passionate startup entrepreneur who is at the leading edge of the 'sharing economy' concept

“I am passionate about the idea of sharing, where access is more important than ownership,” he says.

With a visit to the Carpool Arabia site potential passengers can find car owners offering rides that might suit their journey. They can message the drivers, who can then accept or decline the passenger offer. Passengers are asked to make a fixed contribution to the drivers, calculated by Carpool Arabia.

“By default it is not a profitable activity,” says De Terssac. “But it will allow the users to offset the cost of the ride. After this is done the people who have travelled together are then invited to leave a review, to let everyone know how it went. All the drivers and all the passengers are normal people, not taxi drivers.”

De Terssac explains that the charge calculated is six-times cheaper than an equivalent taxi journey.

“It’s definitely not about the money,” he says. “But of course we want to reward the driver.”

Users have to register with the RTA’s dedicated carpooling site, then create a profile on Carpool Arabia. The exception is friends, family or co-workers, who don’t need to register with the RTA to share a ride. With an altruistic start, Carpool Arabia, which is free to the public, also has an effective business model.

“We are selling the platform to corporates,” says De Terssac. “We offer them a dedicated platform for their company, with their branding, but we also go beyond the technology.”

I am passionate about the idea of sharing, where access is more important than ownership

Benjamin de Terssac, Founder, Carpool Arabia

The Carpool Arabia team will also help its clients roll out the carpooling platform to their staff. This includes assisting with internal communications plans and helping to emphasise the environmental and economic benefits of sharing a ride.

“We introduce incentive plans to motivate the people to car pool,” says De Terssac. “They won’t always do it just because it’s a good thing to do, but they will do it for a preferred parking space, or because of the honorific rewards.”

The potential benefits to participating organisations include credit for undertaking a great CSR initiative, reduced stress on parking resources and a reduced carbon footprint.

“It’s also good for employee satisfaction,” says De Terssac, who believes well-organised car pooling can help people arrive at work in a more relaxed frame of mind.

De Terssac hopes that one day there will be even more incentives to carpool, ranging from dedicated lanes, through to highly visible and preferential parking. If he gets his way, we may all soon be making a greater contribution to the environment and have someone to talk to on the way to work as well.