In these unprecedented and very confusing times, it is safe to say that the COVID-19 virus has had an impact on every aspect of our daily lives, including the transportation services that we regularly use.
Most operators have experienced free-fall declines in bookings and journeys because of people staying and working from home. This is also the first time that a virus of this kind has managed to unearth the epidemiological aspect of shared mobility, on a global scale. With social and physical distancing measures in place in many countries, ridehailing, public transit and carpooling services have had to re-evaluate how to safely transport passengers in services where people not only use a shared vehicle consecutively but simultaneously with strangers.
Never before, have personal transportation offers, whether they’re airlines, shared mobility operators or transit authorities, had to adapt their core services in such a fast time frame. The resulting pressure to reduce service or even shut down operations altogether has thrown the service and entire transportation networks into an unknown territory.
This article will discuss,
- The Covid-19 impact on different mobility services
- The big question: is shared mobility an essential or non-essential service?
- Operational solutions to help you weather the storm
- Resources that provide up-to-date information and guidance throughout this trying time
Keep reading to learn more about the impact Covid-19 has had on shared mobility and keep an eye on our social media for updates and the current situation progresses.
Covid-19: Impact on Shared Mobility
Public Transit systems
Public transit ridership has fallen drastically over the last month due to the current social distancing measures implementing by most countries worldwide. It appears that cities where public transit is the most popular form of transportation (and where more households don’t own a vehicle) have seen the sharpest drops in ridership which has occurred because local authorities have attempted to reduce social mixing by shutting down popular transit options. In a research article by SpareLabs they noted that the deep inequalities in transit have been spotlighted during this pandemic so far. For example, richer cities have higher-skilled jobs that enable working from home and wealthier people and people with degrees can afford to drive or take taxis instead of riding transit. Poorer residents, who tend to have limited medical insurance have no choice but to ride transit, which means their risk of infection is much greater.
Transit must remain a safe option for people seeking to access essential services, so a complete shutdown of all services is currently not a viable solution. Public transit authorities will be faced with hard decisions over the next few months between providing essential coverage and reducing service frequency. The essential workforce still needs to get to work at all hours of the day and night and that should be the priority.
As it stands, most micromobility operators have shut down their operations or reduced their services. The pandemic has been devastating with regards to micromobility startups who were already struggling to make shared scooters and bicycles a viable transportation option. In an article by Karma, they state that investors have already shied away from the sector, which saw venture-capital investment drop 63% to almost $2 billion last year from 2018, according to Pitchbook. Leaders like Lime and Bird have seen declines in ridership, meaning that post-pandemic, perhaps only the largest and best-managed companies may be the last ones standing.
That being said, there are some bikesharing services that have seen an uptick in usage. Commuters are returning to bike-sharing because it allows them to ride in open space with limited human contact. An expert at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention even recommended it as the form of public transportation that poses the lowest risk of getting infected with the virus, according to Xinhua.
One of China’s largest bike-share providers, Hellobike, said trips longer than 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) tripled between January 22 and January 24, when Wuhan first shut down public transportation. And the proportion of trips around hospitals, supermarkets and wet markets in Wuhan increased 5% compared with before the outbreak.
Now, more than ever, the need for unique and alternative methods of transportation is huge, especially for essential workers. New York City is adding more space for cyclists, and micromobility users, to support the sudden shift to from public transportation to individual transport modes on their streets. Bogotá, Colombia has added 76 kilometers of cycle lanes practically overnight to accommodate more riders and social distancing. Cities such as Mexico City and London are seeing the benefits of many years spent growing their cycling networks, and are moving to make temporary cycling measures permanent. These relatively new individual methods of transportation have proven to be very successful in keeping the population safe during their commutes.
Some systems in some regions are seeing a temporary spike in demand as people shift out of public transit, others are suspending or eliminating offerings as demand has evaporated overnight. Usage is overall significantly down, in some cases up to 70%. Several startup and legacy companies in the space had existing operational and financial business model issues raising the question of how long can they sustain these tough times.
Some companies have already shut down operations, like CityHop in New Zealand because it was deemed a non-essential service. New Zealand is taking a more restrictive approach than other countries. However, paradoxically ridehailing is still operating, even though carsharing was mandated to shut dow. CityHop’s only option currently is to lend their vehicles out on long-term basis for those that need them, such as healthcare professionals.
Other companies such as Evo, have reached out to their members and informed them to stay home. Evo’s vehicles are only to be used for essential trips and they want to ensure there are vehicles for front line workers or for picking up groceries or medication.
This is similar to the situation in Italy: after one month of lockdown the only people who are allowed to work are those that work in grocery stores, pharmacies and those in the healthcare profession. If the police stops anyone else using a carshare car during and deem the trip as non-essential, the person could receive a $3k fine. Obviously this lead to an additional drop in usage, so beginning last week some Italian carshare companies started to focus on strengthening brand (rather than actually making money) and part of that includes providing their fleet for free to essential workers, such as nurses or doctors.
ridepooling and RIDEHAILING
Similar to other shared mobility services some companies have been forced to shut down and suspend services. In the U.S nationwide spending on ride-hailing services Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. has plunged in the past two weeks as large numbers of Americans started working from home, avoided travel, and curtailed social gatherings in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The big question: IS SHARED MOBILITY AN Essential or Non-Essential Service?
All these developments boil down to a single question: is the service essential or not? For those workers that provide an essential service such as health care professional, delivery agents, bus drivers, utility or supermarket workers it is an essential service. They still have to go to their workplace every day and many of them rely on shared mobility to commute, particularly those with no personal vehicles living in larger cities.
Spare’s image shows that the cities where people depend on transit to get to work, have seen the least loss in ridership.
There is no question that public transit is seen as an essential service. That is why they continue to operate, even if buses and trains are mostly empty. When it comes to privately owned shared mobility offerings such as carsharing, micromobility or ridehailing, different governments and municipalities differ in their opinions: some argue they are essential where others say they are non-essential. Sometimes one shared service is seen as essential, but others are not.
movmi argues that they should be seen as providing an essential service throughout this this time because it is one major alternative in the mobility ecosystem that allows for greater sanitizing control and physical distancing.
While transportation needs have changed, and personal mobility has dropped, there is an increase in demand for delivery, healthcare and medical transportations. Shared mobility operators have an existing fleet and infrastructure and in many places they have risen to the Covid-19 challenge not only by continuing to operate at increase costs, but also by reducing costs and creating invaluable partnerships with community organizations that still need to move around.
HOW TO GET THROUGH THe covid-19 CRISIS
Unfortunately, this is a completely unique situation and there is no precedent or rule book dictating how we should get through these next few moths. However, there are some lessons learnt from other providers that could be implemented to ensure that shared mobility operators not only stay operational throughout this crisis but also to do their part to help keep the population safe.
Since ridership patterns have change and ultimately fallen over the last 30 days, it is important for operators to consider repurposing their fleet and offering it to those that need it the most, an example being healthcare workers. Shared mobility providers such as carsharing and some larger micromobility companies, have been quick to broaden commute options available to first responders. For example, scooters in China and fleets of for-hire and for-share cars have become the best available commute options of healthcare staff in wake of cities’ shut-downs. ShareNow has reduced their day rates and is offering free mobility for health workers.
Electric moped company Revel is also offering free rides for all health care workers and expanding its service area so users can access major hospital centers in an effort to aid New Yorkers during the Covid-19 outbreak. The moped sharing service normally restricts drivers from accessing far-off regions of the city, but the company is increasing its range so users can access more medical centers and hospitals within the region.
Ridehailing companies have pivoted as drivers shift from moving people to delivering food and products. As people stay home and can’t go out, they will be demanding more of their e-commerce and local food venues to deliver. Repurposing vehicles to be used as delivery service vehicles has also become commonplace among shared mobility providers. MILES, for example, has extended their “Sharity” work, which supports food delivery services for the elderly and other services with free vehicles.
One way to adhere the strict social distancing rules and to ensure you limit the spread of the virus as much as possible in your operations is to no longer allow online or in-app bookings. By offering call only bookings it allows you more control on how many people get in a car and if the vehicles are really being used for essential travels.
According to the recent Carsharing Association webinar on the current crisis, an example of a carshare company that is employing a restricted booking strategy is Ithaca Carshare. They are operating their services at a reduced capacity – usage is currently down by 70% – yet have added additional services such extra cleaning, daily sanitizing of every car and additional phone work. They are following state guidelines, rather than city guidelines, which currently treat carsharing providers as an essential service. They have also moved theirs booking services to calls only to ensure only essential trips are being taken by the community.
Find ways to reduce operational cost:
Since demand is down overall it’s important to remove superfluous supply for the time being. Companies like Vancouver’s Modo have starting putting vehicles in storage and removing them from the road if they’re not needed.
Shared mobility operators should ask for leniency with parking costs (or for them to be significantly reduced by the city) until they are through the crisis.
covid-19 related Communication:
Communication is vital. With the situation changing daily, regular communication with users is key. Emails are great but people are becoming inundated with Covid-19 updates via email and so they are easy to ignore. Instead what seems to have more effect are either app-based push notifications or creating a dedicated landing page for Covid-19 updates. Both make it easier for members to stay up-to-date with what they can and cannot do.
An example of a company who is supporting carshare across the globe to communicate well with its users is Wunder Mobility. This shared mobility software platform has the ability to create easy push notifications. Their development team also created an icon for their apps to show whether or not the vehicle has recently been santized.
HOW DO WE LEARN FROM Covid-19?
Is this Covid-19 pandemic an opportunity to rethink our transportation priorities and needs? For the first time ever, we are experiencing a massive reduction in traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from every industry (not just transportation) on an international level. The world has started to heal itself as we take a step back from the everyday humdrum of modern life. It is obvious, and has been for some time, that we are in need of sustainable transportation alternatives but this pandemic has clearly highlighted the harm we are doing to the world around us and it’s up to us to rethink our choices and movements when this comes to an end.
In an article for Forbes Tim Papandreou stated that we shouldn’t have to choose between working to make money, our health and the environment around us, particularly when considering the transportation choices we make. But many of us, if not all, face these problems in our ‘normal’ daily lives. Perhaps, one of the biggest takeaways so far from the outbreak, is how working flexible hours and working from home has been easily managed by many companies globally. Perhaps adjusting work schedules, post pandemic, is something that will change how we design and create personal mobility and the transportation systems – shared or public – of the future.
Resources to guide you through Covid19
Covid-19 is creating a need for more flexibility in how businesses are operated and there is a tremendous need for sharing new, up-to-date information and lessons learnt globally, during this crisis. If you are a shared mobility operator, here are a few resources that you may find helpful throughout the next few weeks:
- Public Transit: Link to CUTA (Canadina Urban Transit Association) Covid-19 resources
- List of Disinfectants recommended by EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) to use against Covid19
- Carshare: Regular webinars between operators to exchange ideas of how to deal with this crisis.
movmi: We put together a Covid-19 taskforce for any Shared Mobility providers with carshare, micromobility and microtransit experts and includes people with a deep understanding of technology & operations, policy and government relationship, as well as legal and insurance. You can ask them anything related to Covid-19 and your operation by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This article has not been endorsed or sponsored by any of the providers mentioned and there is no affiliation between movmi and them.