Last week I embarked upon my first ever “covoiturage”. This fabulous French word is equivalent to car pooling or car sharing. Having yet to be paid, and with train prices as high as they are, I decided to have a look into the mystical world of covoiturage.
I had heard the term before, at school, whilst studying French GCSE and A-Level but only recently discovered the French have an array of sites dedicated to this phenomenon, such as http://www.covoiturage.fr. The site is user-friendly with a simply search bar where one can enter their town of departure, destination and date of travel. Now, initially one might think: STALKER ALERT. How do you know if it’s safe? Seems a bit like a more civilised and premeditated form of hitch-hiking. No fear! Each driver has reviews if they’ve travelled before, and if not, the details of the car are all up on the site and phone numbers have to be verified.
So I decide to take the risk. No way am I forking out €200 to go all the way to Berlin when it’s half the price to carpool. The few days running up to the journey however, the nerves kick in, and I’m finding myself continuously justifying what I’m doing, Sure, it’s cheaper, but it’s also environmentally friendly! One divides the petrol and toll money by four (the maximum amount of total passengers), but also cuts down on emissions. The solution also reduces traffic jams (of which we encountered plenty on our way to and from Berlin – if only more people carpooled!) and combats against a rather absurd actualisation: 93% of French motorists make the commute alone in their car. Similarly, Ile-de-France has 15 million daily visits by car, with an average occupancy of 1.3 persons per vehicle.
But no matter how much I tried to convince myself…the dark truth (or what I believed to be so at the time) remained lurking at the back of my mind: how was I to manage a 10 hour long journey (two times over, there and back) with a car full of French people I’ve never met and who I probably have nothing in common with? Can I eat in the car? What if I need to nap? Is that awkward? And what do we talk about? Where you’re from, what you do blah blah blah, okay…but that will last about an hour, n’est pas?
Friday morning looms, and before I know it, I’m waiting outside la Gare waiting for a Black Peugeot 205. Soon enough, it pulls around the corner and out comes the driver who I’ve been in contact with, Romain. We exchange a few words of small talk, before “riiiiiiing riiiiiiiing”, Saïd (the next covoiturageur) phones to say he’ll be late. Nonetheless, he turns up next and soon after, Clemence. But the awkwardness has gone. It’s almost as if we skip the whole who-you-are-and-where-you-come-from shenanigans and get straight into the kind of fun you have with friends you’ve know for years. We play the harmonica, share food, play “yellow car”, sing songs, listen to the radio, nap, talk about Berlin, about Strasbourg and take frequent stops which involve individual massages courtesy of Saïd.
After 3-4 hours delay due to traffic, I can’t help but beam at the new friends I’ve made. People I would never have met before, as we all belong to different networks, and run in different circles, now consider me a friend, and I them. It’s so rare nowadays to find a means to do what covoiturage offers. I would strongly recommend this mode of transport to everyone, even if the trains are affordable, and know that I will be doing it at every opportunity. A mix of cultures, generations, genders and personalties join together with only one thing in common: their destination.
And that, in essence, is why covoiturage is so much more than saving a few quid or saving the planet.