Major public transport strikes in France have been bringing the country to a standstill for weeks now. Hundreds of thousands of French people have seen their Christmas holiday plans fall apart. People who depend on trains and subways and who don’t feel like walking have switched en masse to bicycles and electric scooters. When you see the overcrowded stations and buses, it is hard to imagine that France is at the forefront of start-ups in the transportation sector. Here is a small selection of current mobility innovators of note.
The return of the zeppelin
BlaBlaCar is probably the most well-known, and is now active in more than twenty countries. The company has set new records these past weeks, with more than a hundred thousand bookings a day in France alone, courtesy of the railway strike. Since this year, BlaBlaCar has also been the operator of the BlaBlaBus budget company in The Netherlands. If you would rather take to the air instead of the highway, then there’s Wingly. They operate on the same principle as BlaBlaCar, except with airplanes. On this app, pilots of private planes state how many empty seats they still have. You can travel to 300 different airports in Europe using Wingly. Fares start at €30, a private flight from Paris to Rotterdam costs around €371.
Another type of private plane is being developed by Flying Whales. That company, based in a suburb of Paris, raised €30 million earlier this month for freight zeppelins. The companies Bouygues, Air Liquide and Aéroports de Paris (of which Schiphol is also a shareholder) invested in this aerial giant. By 2017, Flying Whales had already raised €25 million from BPI, the French public investment fund. The money is earmarked for a green & clean 154 meter long airship that should carry heavy goods at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour.
Gyrolift designs solutions for people with mobility problems. You might call their products trendy wheelchairs, but they’re way more advanced. Hence the price: a Gyrolift costs €14,000. So far, it’s mainly companies that purchase these vehicles in order to help less mobile personnel.
Another logistics innovator is Everoad, a kind of Uber for freight transport. It signed a contract of €100 million with the Casino group back in October. This supermarket company is in the process of making its digital transition and wants to become the market leader for home deliveries of food products in France. Casino is currently still too dependent on the railways and can no longer rely on them due to all the strikes. Via Everoad, transporters can more easily and quickly find distribution centers that need transport capacity. Casino already has a contract with Amazon for the distribution of goods from the Monoprix chain.
It looks like the strike will last until January, but with all the innovations that on their way, the French are soon set to be a lot less dependent on the state-owned companies RATP and SNCF.