16 Mar 20

COVID-19: Mobility's Catch-22

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The MaaS industry is facing an unprecedented challenge as spread of the coronavirus intensifies.

Ride-hailing, taxi and car rental companies face increased risks, which entail executing widespread measures to clean and disinfect vehicles in between rides. So, while fewer Kilometres are being travelled, resulting in less CO2 emissions, some Uber drivers are already refusing to pick people up from airports. Both Uber and Lyft drivers in the USA say earnings are plummeting.

In some countries such as India, carpooling, car sharing and bus services are being abandoned in favour of private travel as employees are less keen to share rides in case of infection. An article on India Times cited Hinjewadi-based IT professional Deepak Goenka, who in an attempt to reduce his carbon footprint and save money, has been using a carpooling app since 2018 to commute with random riders. However, for the past week, he hasn’t accepted a single ride.

The rise of home-working
Home working, which includes conference and video calling, is on the rise as companies, schools and universities move online. Video and chat software is in unprecedented demand with Zoom, Microsoft, Google and Slack offering free use of their work-from-home software.

Microsoft has experienced a 500% increase in online meetings, calls and conferences in China since January. An article on Vox stated that Zoom usage has increased more than 30% since the beginning of February. The app became the most downloaded business app on iOS for the first time last week and it was the top business app in 11 other markets. The article also confirmed that Google is offering its enterprise videoconferencing features — for example, larger meetings of up to 250 people and the ability to record — for free to G Suite and G Suite for Education customers through July 1, 2020.

Car-sharing feeling the pinch
Carpooling and car sharing services are feeling the pinch with GrabShare in the Philippines suspending its services in Metro Manila and Cebu as of Friday 13th as President Rodrigo Duterte announced last week that Metro Manila would be on lockdown for at least 30 days starting March 15th.

Extra precautions for micro-mobility
Although micro-mobility companies (electric scooters and bikes) are less affected, they are taking extra precautions by advising customers to use disinfectant wipes on equipment before they use it. An article on Mashable quoted a Jump (Uber’s micro-mobility company) spokesperson: "We have increased the frequency of cleaning, and we are disinfecting all JUMP e-bikes and scooters coming in and out of the warehouses. Staff responsible for handling JUMP vehicles are wearing gloves and washing their hands often".

Unprecedented challenges for car rental
In Italy, which has been on lockdown since 9th March, car rental companies are experiencing what some term an apocalypse. Car rental is one of the leading sectors for the Italian car market. According to Aniasa, the association belonging to Confindustria that represents the sector, car rental in Italy is experiencing an 80% drop in business, mainly linked to the collapse of the flow of tourists and foreign workers.

Undoubtedly, these are challenging times for the mobility sector, which is in the early stages of development as it is. However, that in itself could be its saving grace. A young industry is perhaps more able to adapt to circumstances. While Uber drivers cannot conjure up ride-hailing customers in such times, they may be able to adapt their service to take on food deliveries while supermarkets struggle to keep up with demand.

Image copyright: Shutterstock

Authored by: Alison Pittaway