Increasing Resilience in our Transportation Ecosystem: Insights from the First Wave of the Covid19 Pandemic

Over the last six months, in the wake of a global pandemic, Covid-19, our shared mobility ecosystem has changed dramatically. Initially, we saw ridership and usage plummet with public transit suffering the most. People have significantly reduced their amount of travel and in the absence of car traffic during the early days of the pandemic, street space was re-allocated for bike lanes across Europe and North America. More people have chosen individual modes of transportation as a means to limit their exposure to the virus. Car and bike ownership are on the rise and so are subscription services and other forms of shared mobility.

This report is the result of 7 months of primary research of the Covid19 Taskforce which includes a consumer survey as well as interviews with industry experts. The report focuses particularly on both the changing consumer and industry trends that will an influence the mobility landscape for years to come. Finally, we provide three simple policy recommendations that every city should think about if they want to increase resilience in their transportation ecosystem.

Keep reading for a summary of our findings. Download the full report here.

Increasing Resilience in our Transportation Ecosystem:
Insights from the First Wave of the Covid19 Pandemic

Consumer & Industry Trends

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Trend 1: A significant reduction of commuting for the foreseeable future

In the initial months of the pandemic, the majority of people reduced their overall number of trips, due to travel restrictions and stay at home measures. In particular there is significantly less commuting to work or school, especially for white collar workers. In mid October, the World Economic Forum released its Future of Jobs Report which indicates that 84% of employers are set to rapidly digitize working processes to expand their remote workforce. 

Trend 2: Health concerns are driving mobility decisions

The results of the Covid-19 Taskforce’s Rebuilding Tomorrow’s Mobility survey showed that health concerns have become the primary decision-making factor for people deciding to take trips. 61% of respondents named it their number one concern when deciding whether or not to move around Vancouver. There is a lack of trust in public transit systems that will take some time to rebuild. This is where history repeats itself: for example during the peak of the SARS epidemic in Taipei, there were half as many underground trips during its peak and it took four months for passenger numbers to return to pre-crisis levels.


Trend 3: Recognition that our transportation systems have disproportionate effects on disadvantaged communities

Data has shown us that lower income communities have been the ones who have been most affected by the pandemic so far. The luxury of working-from-home does not apply to lower wage workers – many of which are in fact our essential workers – and consists of a high percentage of women, young workers and people marginalized by poverty and racial discrimination. Being nervous about infection, the purchase of a vehicle may seem like the best solution for the frontline workers and blue-collar workers. But this shift to ownership comes at a big cost during a time when unemployment is high and working hours are down.

Trend 4: Shared mobility has been increasing, creating a silver lining of mobility changes

We have seen a big uptick in newer shared mobility modes being adopted and the shared mobility providers rebounded very quickly, particularly with active modes like bike share. Technology is the backbone of these services and that has helped users feel safe when booking and operating these vehicles. Things like contactless reservations and touchless entry for micro transit are default features that help build a reliable, trustworthy service for users.

The change in consumer trends directly affected the mobility industry, who attempted to adapt their services quickly and in waves. At the beginning some micromobility operators closed cities permanently and reduced staff. Companies then quickly changed their approach to ‘quick-fix’ solutions which resulted in increased disinfection and cleaning protocols, and offering their services to essential workers.


Source: Covid-19 related actions of mobility/transportation service providers, Augustin Friedel

Trend 1: Acceleration of electrification of transportation, with e-bicycles flying off the shelves

Throughout the pandemic, car dealerships have seen an increase in the number of sales. The spike in the number of privately owned cars is alarming, especially with the need to keep CO2 emissions in check. In response there has been a fresh influx of capital support from governments boost commercial electric vehicles, increase EV incentives and improve charging infrastructure. Some European countries (eg. UK) and California haven taken this a step further and announced bans on the sale of gasoline powered vehicles starting n 2035.

Trend 2: Subscription and long-term access to share vehicles gaining traction

Even with electric vehicles trending, it is still quite capital intensive to buy or lease an electric car, which is why subscription services and long-term access schemes are on the rise. They allow people who may not be able to afford an electric vehicle on their own to try it out. Similarly, micromobility providers have also seen an increase in length of rides. This new trend paves the way for micromobility subscription services – specifically e-bike subscriptions – as well. Subscribing to a vehicle makes sense from a consumer and community perspective: it feels safer for consumers yet is financially less burdensome and at the same time consumers are not tied to a personal vehicle for years to come because they purchased one during the pandemic.

Trend 3: Merging of personal mobility with delivery

While personal on-demand mobility dropped during the pandemic, delivery was up across all markets, so it was natural to merge both together. For example, in North America, Lyft and Uber have connected with grocery stories, pharmacies and other retail locations to provide delivery services. Micromobility providers, e.g Revel, have also given access to their vehicles to deliver goods and food. Time will tell if these marketing stints will grow into a substantial business.

Trend 4: Creation of the building blocks for the resilient transportation network of the future: Shared Mobility & MaaS

Micromobility – bikeshare, scooter share and moped share – as well as microtransit services have shown resilience in the face of adversity. Service providers such as Lime are integrating third party service providers to their platform, increasing the number of transit options for their users and in turn indicating the need for “multimodal” transit. And MaaS services such as Whim in Helsinki or Jelbi in Berlin show that people have shifted from public transit over shared mobility. Cities should start to capitalize on this and combine shared mobility services and mass transit operators to create a transit network that is more resilient when facing a crisis.

Source: Trafi, BVG, Porsche Consulting-data is based on Jelbi user behavior

Three Policy Recommendations for any City

The conclusion we drew from our findings is that now is the time for us to adjust our policies. We recommend implementing these three policies that will build resilience into cities’ transportation networks so they can continue to provide access to services for residents throughout this pandemic but also when the next crisis hits.

1. Ensure shared mobility is seen as an Essential Service.

When faced with the new reality, cities saw that their residents perceived it as a safer, convenient and reliable way to move about the city and was a much-needed solution in the wake of the crisis. Cities that had been slow or previously rejected forms of shared mobility moved quickly to launch pilots and bring in new operators and this needs to continue. This change in view on shared mobility is evident on a global scale and cities should classify shared mobility as an essential service going forward.

2. Create a policy framework that supports financially viable operations.

In the last two years city planners have increased regulation on all operators significantly: carshare, micromobility and ridehailing/TNC have seen a large share of increased regulation. On the one hand, micromobility providers saw their business stifled by overly stringent operational rules. Carshare operators, on the other hand, pay the highest fees of all shared mobility operators (permit fees, parking fees, license fees, special rental taxes etc). Overly regulated operations or expensive permits inhibit shared mobility service providers in creating financially viable operations. Cities have an opportunity to use policy to drive change, yet should ensure that their overall policy framework is fair, equitable and a holistic approach to a community’s needs. 

3. Invest in partnerships with shared mobility operators.

In an effort to provide mobility solutions that are safe and convenient for essential workers and residents that could not afford a private vehicle, cities looked to shared mobility as a solution. In late spring several cities changed regulations on shared mobility operators and launched partnership programs with operators. Transportation Network Companies (TNC) partnerships with transit agencies have helped provide subsidized rides that replace transit routes that have seen between 75% – 90% reductions in ridership. While previously hesitant to collaborate to closely with private operators, cities have started to realize that they are part of the overall transportation ecosystem. Something that should continue past this current health crisis.

We believe that cities should take the learnings of the initial months of the pandemic seriously. They should not wait to implement the necessary changes to integrate shared mobility with their existing public transit system better. Doing so will create a more resilient transportation ecosystem that is truly the antidote to car ownership that will stand up against any future crisis.

To download the full Covid19 Taskforce Report: Insights from the First Wave of the Covid19 Pandemic, click here.

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