Railways and the collaborative economy: disruption or opportunity?

Albert Cañigueral

Collaborative economy specialist, Founder of ConsumoColaborativo.com and, a connector to OuiShare.

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The sharing economy is describing the scenario where people are empowered to get what they need from each other. PWC recently estimated that the revenue associated with these services will grow from 2013’s $15 billion to $335 billion in 2025. What does the sharing economy mean for railways, an opportunity or a challenge?


The collaborative economy is changing mobility

The Collaborative Economy approach can be applied to physical goods, services, finances and information, and it is really difficult to compete in front of the efficiency and exponential growth of platforms such as Airbnb or Uber. You can take a look at this free download to understand how these platform based companies work: “Pentagrowth: the five levers of exponential growth”.

Mobility is probably the most mature sector in this type of economy. With a range of options from the 10-year-old traditional car sharing (Zipcar) or the newer one-way car sharing (DriveNow) or carpooling (BlaBlaCar). The rail sector is not immune to this new power of mass coordination among peers/travelers. For example: 

A disruption or an opportunity?

On one hand, the crowd is becoming like a company bypassing inefficient corporations. Of course, this is forcing business change, as the internet tends to bypass intermediaries that don’t provide lasting, value added services. If your business model is based on being a gatekeeper (limiting access to a certain good or service), you’ve a lot of intermediaries in your industry or your solution for customer’s needs is overly complicated, you are very likely to be disrupted by coordinated collaboration among your customers.

On the other hand, there are lots of opportunities. Yet it implies a significant mindset change and business investments might be required to satisfy this paradigm change. For example with DriveNow, BMW now rents cars in addition to selling them. Is that expanding or cannibalizing BMW’s business? What prevents a rail company to orchestrate and lead a tickets re-selling platform? If the company doesn’t do it, then the people will. 

Integrating your customers to co-design, co-market, co-fund, co-support business operations will make your corporations more resilient, agile, innovative and profitable. Expect new models to emerge where your customers become an essential component in augmenting traditional business processes.

SNCF, best practice examples

During my presentation at the Amadeus Rail Forum 2015, I used a lot of examples from SNCF to illustrate how a rail company can benefit from the collaborative economy:

  • A partnership with Zipcar, developing its own carpooling application,
  • Rethinking what to do with empty spaces in stations, 
  • Or using open data and APIs to foster open innovation processes.

Some of these ideas were born due to the work that OuiShare - the global network of collaborative economy experts, has been developing with SNCF since it signed up as one of its global partners. Together we experiment to transform their organisation by fostering a culture of collaboration and supporting meaningful projects within or outside the organisation.

We need internal champions (catalysts, entrepreneurs, misfits) who are able to lead this change inside of big companies and turn those large gears a different direction. Are you the one?