The pandemic is forcing mobility providers to rethink their approach to ensure passenger safety.
The pandemic is forcing mobility providers to rethink their approach to ensure passenger safety.
( Source: gemeinfrei / Pexels)

COVID-19 How COVID-19 is affecting shared mobility

Author / Editor: Jason Unrau / Isabell Page

A virus that’s transmitted person-to-person and can live on surfaces for hours or days. Transportation that has increasingly been embracing shared mobility options. It’s a combination that certainly does not work well together. How has the novel coronavirus immediately impacted shared mobility, and what does it look like for the future?

Late in 2019, the full effects of coronavirus were an anomaly, and how it’s transmitted as well as the rate of transmission had not been realized. By early 2020, the devastating consequences of COVID-19 changed how the world interacted in never-before-seen ways in the digital age.

Particularly, the trend away from car ownership as a primary transportation method went from boom to bust in just weeks. On fears of catching coronavirus from touching shared surfaces like handles and seats, not to mention a massive decline in ridership, shared mobility has been virtually crippled.

Train ridership

A system that normally carries millions of people daily in China has suffered immensely. Rail travel has recovered somewhat since coronavirus devastated the nation earlier this year, but only to 50-60% of its pre-COVID ridership.

In Germany, rail demand for commuter trains and long-distance travel alike has cratered to just 15% of the normal demand prior to the virus.

The story is the same across the world, from Houston, TX to Italy. The fear of contracting coronavirus from touching the same surface as an infected person has insidiously spread across the globe. It’s a sentiment shared by bus travel and subway systems as well.

Air travel

Mid-March, nearly all international air travel ground to a halt worldwide. An industry that banks on both commuter traffic and vacationers, the sudden and dramatic downturn in volume forced airlines to ground much of their fleet indefinitely.

  • In the UK, domestic flights are down 60% from the same time in 2019 and international travel is down 81%.
  • In the US, international flights dropped by 72%, although domestic routes only fell by 18%.
  • In India, all domestic flights were suspended to prevent local and international spread of the disease.

While many of the domestic flight routes are still running, they are not filled to capacity as usual in most cases. Travelers are wary to sit in an enclosed space with shared accommodations when there’s the possibility of an asymptomatic person aboard.

Ride sharing

One of the hardest-hit industries in the COVID-19 pandemic is that of ride sharing. Drivers are contracted by Uber, Lyft, or another provider, and the pandemic has affected both the drivers and the passengers available.

Uber recently laid off 14% of their workforce which does not include drivers as the pandemic has required cost-cutting actions. In March, Uber ridership had already dropped by 60% and the trend was expected into LA, San Francisco, and New York. It’s expected that personal ride sharing trips have plummeted around 85% overall.

What the future looks like

The pandemic has forced shared mobility providers to take a step back. Whether an airline, bus terminal, subway, ride sharing provider, or bike or scooter sharing supplier, it will take a resurgence of customer confidence to regain market share.

In the meantime, personal transportation options have been surging in popularity. Medium- and long-term car sharing services like Turo have been impacted less by the pandemic since constant sanitation isn’t required, more along the lines of a car rental than a ride share.

Major transportation providers will need to find ways to ensure passenger safety, whether through contactless ticketing and check-in or with physical distancing and barriers. That’s until a vaccine is available.