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How have shared mobility operators responded to COVID?

Ramu Nair explores successful pandemic strategies from around the world

In cities across the globe, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of transportation, impacting people’s ability and willingness to travel in ways that have been hard to predict. This is especially true when it comes to the burgeoning shared mobility space.

Even in non-COVID times, the varying environmental conditions and mobility cultures in cities across the world mean that operators need to have a clear understanding of the local market and customer needs to provide the most appropriate and useful service. Now, amidst the pandemic, operators have had to react in different ways to adapt to local lockdown regulations and shifting market needs, in many cases quickly pivoting their entire business model to remain competitive.

Many shared mobility operators stepped up their cleaning procedures in the wake of COVID-19

By exploring insights from individual operators across the world, four key themes emerge in the way that operators have worked to limit the impact of the pandemic on their business.

Rapid adjustments to shared mobility models

Impacting some 1.3 billion people, India was home to the world’s largest lockdown. People were not allowed to go outside and businesses were shut down entirely. Local provider Bounce quickly adapted to this new environment by shifting its model to offer longer duration rentals on its scooter fleet in addition to the short-term rentals it usually offers. In doing so, Bounce was able to provide users with a temporary form of private mobility in the lockdown period that better suited customers’ needs and social distancing requirements.

New cooperation and partnerships

Unsurprisingly, there were several areas of business that flourished in lockdown conditions. When people are discouraged from going out, the demand for delivery services increases, thus leading to new vertical partnerships between shared mobility operators and delivery operators in cities across the world. In the US, shared moped company Revel made month-long free memberships available to restaurants in various major cities to use for food delivery. In Malaysia, shared car provider SOCAR started to focus on business-to-business operations, solidifying key partnerships with delivery companies like Lalamove and MrSpeedy to provide them with a fleet of vehicles to meet growing demand for their services. Over in Sweden, Voi teamed up with gig economy platform Gigstr in both Stockholm and Gothenburg to supply its fleet of e-scooters to meet increasing demand for service professionals.

Fleet expansion 

In countries that were better equipped and prepared for the virus, such as Taiwan, full shutdowns were not needed and the pandemic has had little impact on day-to-day life. In these markets the shared mobility sector has seen continuous growth. Local provider WeMo continued seeing 25,000 rides per day per city and was even able to experience 15% growth month-over-month. The company did, however, introduce extra sanitary precautions, for example adding a cleaning and disinfection procedure to the daily swap out of batteries.

Growth was even possible elsewhere too. By coordinating efforts with university and municipal partners, US-based provider Gotcha took a niche approach to keep its bikes and e-scooters on the market and provide riders with a socially-distant transportation alternative, experiencing growing user rates for its efforts.

Cost reduction

To limit the impact of the pandemic, other providers have decided to reduce overall operational costs by moving towards light asset operations. Zoomcar, India’s largest vehicle sharing operator, has started Zoomcar Mobility Services, a software-based platform that covers multiple vehicle categories including two-wheelers, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, trucks, and buses. The new platform enables it to integrate vehicles from partners into the offering. The company partners with car manufacturers in a win-win for both the OEM and operator, providing the OEM with a new sales channel and the operator with vehicles without the burden of ownership.

Some shared bike schemes saw a spike in demand

Users’ and investors’ trust in shared mobility

Exploring the impact of the pandemic, Enrico Howe, lead author of the annual Global Scooter Sharing Market Report, published by unu, comments: “After a stronger, lockdown-related drop in the number of rentals in almost all global markets, the fleet usage strongly picked up again.” Indeed, in certain markets, usage has grown beyond pre-pandemic levels. Howe continues: “Users regain trust in micromobility solutions and acknowledge the advantage of driving in open air and with distance to others.” Notably this is a trend boosted by the increased sanitation efforts on the part of most providers.

Howe’s research has also found that while share prices saw rock bottom around March, they have since stabilised to show optimistic signs of recovery. “Despite fears in public debate, many financial investors kept their positive outlook of the shared mobility industry in general and micromobility in particular,” Howe says.

While the pandemic is still very much an ongoing concern across the world, there are indeed positive indications for the shared and micromobility sectors. With utilisation rates rising, fleet sizes increasing and financial investors feeling optimistic, there is every sign that the market is likely to exit the crisis in a stronger position. Moreover, increased private ownership of bikes, e-scooters and mopeds will only lead to greater acceptance of micromobility options in general and will further encourage shared mobility service usage in turn.

In a nutshell, the pandemic has added extra dynamics to an already fast moving industry. It made a very strong case for the operators’ need to adapt their business model rapidly to changing circumstances and user demands. This ability to quickly adapt, however, is only possible with flexible technology allowing operators to expand fleets, develop new business models and integrate new partners.

About the author: Ramu Nair is Head of Business Operations at Invers GmbH

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