By Augustin Friedel, Shared Mobility Expert & Stephanie Hagen, Director, Urban Mobility Company 

With many countries in various levels of quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it comes as little surprise that the Shared Mobility sector has been hit particularly hard. Not only are most people staying home, but those who do need to travel are wary of using shared vehicles which could be harbingers for transmission. So, what are private service operators in this sector doing to keep business afloat, meet shifting demands and to even help those in need during this crisis? To answer these questions, Shared Mobility Expert Augustin Friedel is curating an extensive table that records the various actions taken by shared mobility actors around the world. The table effectively organises their responses into three primary categories:

1. Daily Operations
2. Adjustments to Increased Usage/Addressing New User Groups
3. Help for Front Line Heroes/High Risk Groups

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Within each of these categories, there are several interesting trends which we have observed.

The COVID-19 Shared Mobility Action Plan

For most shared mobility companies engaging in some form of all three of these actions, they have generally followed the same timeline, which doubles as a sort of COVID-19 Action Plan. They begin by addressing daily operations, such as implementing new special cleaning measures for their vehicles and communicating about it. Next, they concentrate on shifting their vehicle availability and/or pricing based on usage within a given city or region, or they are shifting their offering to focus on new target users, such as those working in delivery. With daily operations and customer strategy squared away, companies can focus on contributing their services towards benevolent purposes, such as offering free or discounted rides to medical workers or the elderly.

Now, let’s take a deeper look into these three responses and highlight some interesting trends we are seeing in each.

Daily Operations

The biggest impact COVID-19 has had on daily operations is obviously suspension of services, particularly among the e-kick scooters companies. Both Bird and Lime have announced they are putting a pause on service in multiple cities across the United States and Europe, while Voi and Tier are suspending operations in numerous European cities. Unfortunately, such suspensions often go hand-in-hand with retrenchments – Bird recently came under fire for laying off 30% of its total staff. It is likely, however, that other e-kick scooter companies will be following suit shortly.

Car sharing companies which have also temporary suspended their services includes emov in Spain and Enterprise CarShare for all their North American markets. Shuttle service Moia first announced that it would suspend the service in Hamburg and Hannover from April 1st onwards, but later revised the plan and will continue to operate in Hamburg during nighttime hours to offer their service to frontline workers. Ride Hailing services such as Uber and Lyft meanwhile have removed the pooled ride option from their apps for the time being.

Another popular response has been instituting new cleanliness standards for vehicles to ensure they do not encourage the spread of the disease. Wheels, which is now only offering it’s ebikes to professionals and non-profits responsible for delivery services, has begun deploying bikes with NanoSeptic self-cleaning handlebars and brake levers. Car rental and sharing services such as Europcar and Sixt Rent in Europe and Shenzhou in Asia are rigorously and systematically disinfecting their cars and offering “contactless” ways to pick up and hand off keys.

Adjustments to Increased Usage/Addressing New User Groups

Another major impact of COVID-19 is that it has significantly shifted both the target user base as well as the main need for shared mobility, and many companies are scrambling to readjust their service according to where there is more demand. Several shared mobility services are joining the aforementioned Wheels in contributing to last-mile delivery solutions, as online shopping is drastically increasing with more and more people staying inside. Among these companies includes: VOI, which has set up partnerships in several Nordic cities allowing restaurant workers to use their scooters to deliver food; Lyft, which has partnered with Amazon in the US; Greenmobility in Denmark, which is collaborating with local restaurants to offer food delivery; and the Vienna-based car sharing company ELOOP, which is now offering special rates for delivery drivers.

Some services are also readjusting their pricing to match the economic reality of the situation. The EV car sharing company re.volt in Prague is offering the city’s inhabitants 50% off all fares, while Zity in Madrid has temporarily eliminated it’s dynamic pricing in favour of lower fixed prices. Socar car sharing in Korea is increasing the rental period for its cars while offering discounted long term rates.

Help for Front line Heroes/High Risk Groups

In times of crisis, it is inspiring to see how companies step up to the challenge of aiding their communities. During this pandemic, fast and efficient mobility has become a particularly valuable resource for those who are fighting the pandemic on the “frontlines” in hospitals, medical centres and nursing homes. A number of companies are offering medical workers their mobility services free of charge.

In London, Uber is offering complimentary rides of up to £15, as well as £10 Uber Eats vouchers, to anyone with an NHS email address. Share NOW is offering special 30-day rental packages at exceptionally low prices for healthcare workers, while the car rental service Virtuo is dedicating 100 cars from their fleet free of charge to medical staff in France. Car Sharing Service Poppy Mobility is offering the free usage of their cars to medical workers in Antwerp and Brussels and Sixt Share is offering €100 vouchers for all medical staff and critical workers in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. Bird has also recently announced that they are offering free electric scooter rides to healthcare workers and emergency personnel in four cities.

Some companies are also focusing on helping High Risk Groups. WeShare is mobilizing its fleets to make critical food and supply deliveries to charities in Berlin, while Lyft is offering  medical transportation to people from low-income backgrounds in the US.

Finally, we are starting to see more private operators teaming up with cities to cover mobility gaps caused by Coronavirus. In Hamburg, Moia is providing free shuttles between midnight and 6 am as a part of the city’s campaign to offer safer transport during this time. Free NOW in Vienna is aiding a citywide campaign to keep the elderly population safe by offering €50 vouchers to over 300 000 citizens over the age of 65 in order to facilitate their trips to the grocery store or to medical appointments. Let’s hope this encouraging trend of private and public operators working together to improve transport for the public continues, even after the crisis has subsided.

Moving Forward (But to Where?)

So, what happens next for shared mobility? It is the question on everybody’s mind but  unfortunately there is no clear answer. What we can do is continue to observe the response of shared mobility actors across the globe and the trends that are popping up around their actions. This will help us to understand not only where the market is heading during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also, how this rapidly evolving Shared Mobility Landscape might look once the crisis has passed. While business may never be back to “normal”, we think it will instead shift to a “new normal” – if you want to help the mobility community get a full understanding on what that might look like, contribute to the ever-expanding table by reporting the latest shared mobility measures and actions