Life will go on: Shared mobility in a post-corona time

Aviv Frenkel
8 min readMay 10, 2020

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Why it will continue, how it will and what will now re-shape the shared mobility industry of tomorrow

By: Emil Schaefer, Business Development Associate, ENROUTE

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Held in breath by the Corona pandemic, the world is confronted with an unseen challenge. Even further, the world faces unseen uncertainty, not only about when and how the virus will be “over” and when, or even if life can go back to pre-corona normality, but also about the economic magnitude of this pandemic. The 1 million (or rather 1 trillion dollars) question is how enormous this impact will turn out to be.

As with many industries, and in fact the general economy, the impact of the Corona pandemic on the shared mobility industry will, to a large extent, be determined by the length of the crisis. Of little surprise, the industry witnessed a sharp decline in ridership during the pandemic: For a representative week in March, ridership in the US was down by approximately 23% as compared to the same days in February, as reported by the Centre for Automotive Research. Other countries, like Italy, Spain, or, in the high days, China witness(ed) even more dramatic declines. Meanwhile, in the US, Uber, and Lyft, flagships of the shared mobility industry, have suspended their services — and recently both Uber and Lyft laid off thousands of employees.

Being excellent virus spreaders, there seems little reason to believe the situation for all kinds of shared mobility services will, in the short term, and especially during the pandemic, change in any significant way. How the experience of Corona will influence the faith of the industry, in general, will remain to be seen. Nevertheless, a couple of important considerations may be made today already.

As a first thought, mobility is, has been, and always will be a key aspect of people’s lives. A world in which the current home-staying measures will continue for a time of more than two years, or even more than a few months seems rather dystopian, as in such a pessimistic scenario, the whole civilization, and not just a couple of businesses and industries are at threat. The current global situation is far from that. The question thus seems to be, not if, but how the mobility industry of the future will look like. Bearing in mind that much of what has driven the trend towards more shared mobility services, convenience, economics, and climate change are not vanishing in and after corona, it also seems reasonable to assume that shared mobility will, in some way or another, continue to be the direction mobility is heading towards.

So how will shared mobility react to the much-cited slogan of “every crisis is a chance for innovation”?

History shows us that fundamental crises have the power to reshape and sustain aspects of daily behavior: As much as the response of increased regulatory oversight of mortgages and bank operations in general followed and sustained from the 2008/2009 economic crisis, it seems highly likely to assume that the current emphasis on hygiene will leave a somewhat permanent stamp on the organization of human life. As a central part of this, (shared) mobility will be affected alike, and chances for innovativeness arise, ranging from simple measures like standardized availability of disinfectants in busses, trains, and other shared vehicles to self-cleaning surfaces and more. Technologies like ultra-violet light or innovative coating solutions that are currently developed to make hospitals safer could eventually find their application in public transport. Providing medically safe rides will be indispensable for winning back broad trust among customers and with it, the demand for alternative means of transport. This regaining of trust and demand most likely take some time: Recent developments in China show initial adversity to shared mobility services and possible contact with other people and it is not unlikely that this will be observed in other countries as well.

Photo by Big Dodzy on Unsplash

Despite this, the World Economic Forum recently outlined the vital role played by mobility service providers, like ride-hailing and micro-mobility in combatting the virus and upholding transportation infrastructure. Ranging from quick adaptions to enable commute options for emergency carers, up to the transportation and delivery of food and other essentials, the value of public-private partnerships in this situation, and possibly beyond, seems to be increasingly recognized. Furthermore, the World Economic Forum highlights, how data sharing between mobility service providers and authorities, under compliance with all privacy regulations, can, and in some locations has helped to pursue an effective tracing strategy of people that infected citizens have been in contact with. This highlights what is one of the key aspects of today’s shared mobility services already and will most likely be the second long-term persistent trend in the industry: Data and connectivity

Big data, cloud storing, and automated data exchange have been at the forefront of innovation in new shared mobility services. This trend driven mainly by private suppliers will swap over to publicly operated public transport options. One realistic additional use case for this data might find itself in live-time monitoring to prevent overcrowding (especially during rush hour) and therewith reduce hygienic problems of public mobility. Furthermore, it could substantially improve the operation smoothness of such services and customer experience (Who does not hate to stand in an overcrowded tube during rush hour?!).

Taking the words of the World Economic Forum serious, this could be one point where public-private partnerships may fundamentally reshape urban mobility: What if the different options of bus, train, ride-hailing, micro-mobility, and car-sharing could partner and exchange live-time occupation data to allow customers to not only see the quickest but also least crowded way from A to B?

The idea(l) of a smart city has seen increasing popularity in recent years, with more and more technologies and services being developed to integrate different aspects of the city. Owning and connecting the huge individual pots of data created in the different aspects of social life, mobility, leisure, living, etc. will be — under maximum attention to security and privacy — indispensable to gear up cities and prevent similar vulnerability as today.

Enroute, an Israeli tech startup has focussed on this very aspect of smart integration in its aim to develop a platform that connects mobility and retail. Enroute has developed a personalized, location-based commerce and loyalty plug-in for mobility companies, embedded in ride-hailing and mass transit mobility apps for companies such as Uber, Lyft, Deutsche Bahn, and others. The service allows passengers to earn rides for free as they shop, interact and collect items from locations close to their destination. This way, the company offers a solution to incentivize the use of alternative mobility, while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of online delivery and promoting an integrated and attractive city. Unsurprisingly, having been booming for the last years already, online shopping has seen a further steep increase during Corona, with Amazon reporting net increased sales of $23 MRD as compared to the same months in 2019. Research shows that commute commerce is another trend that will regain popularity, as prior to the pandemic 20% of all online shopping in the UK occurred during the morning commute. Simultaneously, however, the #supportyourlocal movement on social media platforms like Instagram has been trending. As the run onto shops in Germany’s cities, after they reopened in Mid-April proves, people do and will continue to care for lively cities. At the same time, lively will have to mean safe. Enroute’s Click & Collect Solution shows how this can become reality: Reducing the time spent in crowded places and especially in lines, while simultaneously countering “pure” online shopping solutions, Enroute is a first solution to the need for lively yet (hygienically) safer ways of city life.

Enroute winning the 2020 Digital Champion at Transport Ticketing Awards

This then highlights a third aspect of the future of shared mobility: Integration. As in many industries, individual companies are hardly struck, and will, if not already happened, rely on financial aid by governments to survive. As for the outlined reasons, governments would be well advised to grant it, and in fact, see it as a chance to nourish partnerships. Today competing for customers, shared mobility services, and within that public transport and ride-hailing may soon be embraced more as completing solutions to enable smart mobility and city management alike. Clearing the market, Corona might, in fact, enable the strongest players to gain unseen strength after the crisis and after trust in public services is regained. What seems clear is that not only integration within a broader smart city concept, but also with adjacent aspects of civil life is the future mobility is heading towards. Innovative solutions as outlined by Enroute will create those interconnections and help shape the future of shared mobility, to become smart, integrated mobility.

Talking about third-party services that will play a key role in (re-)shaping shared mobility: No matter whether in ride-hailing, mass transit or other shared mobility services, operators will (have to) look for options to diversify their revenue streams: With ridership down dramatically, and likely continuation of this for some time, shared mobility needs to find adjacent ways to drive revenues. A harbinger already outlined this trend: Lyft announced in February that it has bought US-based start-up Halo Cars, which allows drivers to make money through digital advertisements displayed on top of their vehicles. Uber has reported working on a similar service themselves. Here again, the mobility industry will have to think broadly: Enroute’s commerce and loyalty layer seem to be one of the quickest — and most senseful ways to do so. Enroute earns a commission from every purchase made at one of the retail partners in their network, which is forwarded to the passengers to order more rides. This way, mobility companies could make revenues now, using a new loyalty scheme sponsored by retailers.

Enroute’s commerce platform for Deutsche Bahn

Which brings us to passenger experience. With social distancing, passengers will tend to immerse themselves in their own cocoons, meaning their mobile devices. Mobility companies should address this opportunity, not only providing a safe means of transportation, but also a new digital experience that will be an integral part of their users’ journeys.

Lastly, what all this hints towards is the crucial part: Life continues. So will it for shared mobility. The environmental, social, and economic necessities that have driven its trend in the first place do not vanish due to Corona. In contrast, they might have become even stronger and the value that lies within the already existing mobile infrastructure of shared mobility is not only useful now, in the crisis, but even more so after it, to prepare cities and humanity for the next one. Simultaneously, operators are under pressure to act: Smart investments in the right partnerships now will be rewarded.

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