SNCF hitches a ride into the ridesharing vertical with purchase of marketplace 123enVoiture

Sep 9, 2013
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Via its subsidiary Ecolutis, French train company SNCF has purchased acquired a 100% stake in 123enVoiture, a ride-sharing marketplace that boasts 400,000 members, LesEchos reported this week. The acquisition comes after SNCF had already invested a 20% stake in the site via its Venture arm Ecomobilité Ventures; however, now that the company is squarely under SNCF’s arm, SNCF will be able to add 123enVoiture to its arsenal of alternative transportation methods in order to stave off competition.

In the past few months, SNCF has rolled out a variety of alternatives to its TGV trains, as the European train landscape changes quickly due to European regulations.

We’ve spoken previously about SNCF’s Porte-à-Porte service, which provides taxis to the departing train station and from the arriving train station – in fact, the engineer in charge of Porte-à-Porte even posted a guest post on the Anatomy of the Paris Taxi market.

SNCF has also responded to recent legislation that now allows long-distance bus routes to compete with train companies (previously banned in Europe) – SNCF’s iDBus has been providing long-distance buses from Paris to other major cities; however, looking at the prices, it’s no surprise the service isn’t getting much attention, as it costs as much as a train ticket (if you buy well in advance) and takes 3 times as long.

The only way users are going to adopt a transportation service that takes 3 times as long is if it is 3 times as cheap; 123enVoiture may be just a service, though they will still have to compete for mindshare with Blablacar, the European-wide incumbent in ride-sharing. While LesEchos argues that 123enVoiture will benefit from a boost from a giant like SNCF, I would challenge someone to name another service that SNCF has acquired and boosted beyond its competitor.

SNCF purchasing into new verticals of transportation is certainly exciting – will this open them up to purchase collaborative car rental marketplaces like BuzzCar or Drivy? What other verticals can we expect them to dig their claws into? Likely, the answer is irrelevant, as SNCF ultimately seems to be purchasing defensively, and if they think like Bouygues, Orange & SFR did when Free Mobile first launched, having a plan to combat new entrants won’t be enough.

New entrants like Eurolines and other train operators won’t just attack prices and transportations models – they’ll attack quality of service, convenience & overall customer experience. SNCF isn’t particularly terrible in this respect – their iPhone app is quite handy for purchasing tickets, and their customer servie is pretty good inside train stations – but don’t expect them to give equal emphasis to ‘alternative’ verticals like 123enVoiture anytime soon. If their strategy for rolling out Porte-a-porte across multiple train stations is any indication, it will be a slow enough process for 123enVoiture to lose any traction it had before it ever gets the boost it needs from SNCF.

Image courtesy of LesEchos