How to reboot shared mobility in a post-pandemic world


Shared mobility must reinvent itself somewhat to adapt to the coming challenges resulting from COVID-19. Operators, software developers, vehicle manufacturers, and public services will all need to be creative in order to find ways to deal with a wide range of social/technical/business issues created or exacerbated by the pandemic.

In this article (in 6 parts), we will explore a few ideas on how to build resilient shared mobility solutions for the near future.

1. Safety & hygiene: reconnect with riders

Hygiene is perhaps the most significant psychological barrier to shared mobility usage in this era of COVID-19. While scooters, bikes, and mopeds all have the built-in feature of social distancing, due to their one-at-a-time ridership, shared usage makes it vital to address the issue of disinfection of contact points.

In the upcoming battle to regain market share, those operators who can convince users that their vehicles are the safest will have a significant advantage over those who might not have the resources to do so.

Different measures can be taken to make the risk more manageable, some of which are outlined below.

Upgrade the hardware: The use of self-cleaning materials to cover the vehicles’ contact points can reduce viral transmission. American operator Wheels has already partnered with NanoSeptic to cover grips and brake levers with this kind of product. Doing so reduces the need for thorough cleaning between riders. Another option is the installation of hand sanitizer and/or disposable glove dispensers, though this may be more complex and less secure, given the potential for theft.

[Read: 3 possible scenarios for restoring public transport after COVID-19]

Adapt operations procedures: If resources are available, operators must optimize the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing their equipment. This might be tricky, though; during this period of decreased ridership (and accordingly diminished staff), French operators Dott and Pony have each confirmed that disinfecting vehicles every eight to ten rides is the best they can do for now.

Improve user behavior: While some operators might not be able to increase their cleaning and disinfection frequency, they can develop innovative marketing campaign solutions to improve users’ hygiene practices through education and reminders.

2. Communication: set the right tone

Shared mobility operators should adapt their marketing and communication to reflect the very specific circumstances brought on by COVID-19. For at least a couple of months after lockdown ends, operators’ usual messages of “fun” and “freedom” will sound out of touch, even anachronistic. Various companies’ announcements of service suspension already display a clear change of pace, with messages focused on health and responsibility.

Operators will need to find the right language to attract new riders who are more fearful of the risk of infection on public transportation (buses, metros, tramways, etc.). These potential users will likely be more receptive to reliability and safety arguments in considering shared scooters, bikes, or mopeds as options for their commutes.

However, operators should not completely give up on their core values; they must find a way to communicate the pleasure of freedom of movement in a way that still feels appropriate and cognizant of the current times.

This might also be a good time for shared mobility companies to use their messaging to assert their good standing in the market. During the lockdown, many operators who chose to keep their services running highlighted their commitment to serve a community and its residents, turning their offerings into reliable and essential transportation options.

3. Strategy: focus on the locals

While lockdown measures will soon slowly ease up in most countries, national and regional borders will likely remain closed, effectively pausing tourism for an unknown period of time. As a consequence, shared mobility services will, at least for now, solely serve locals.

This is a major paradigm shift for some operators who had been heavily reliant on revenues generated by tourists. In Paris for example, tourists account for 40% of all scooter rides, and this number increases to as high as 70% in the months of July and August. Services like shared mopeds are much less impacted by the decrease in tourism, as they have always been used primarily for professional and personal trips on weekdays.

Operators impacted by the reduction in tourism will have to completely reevaluate the way they manage their vehicle fleets. Taking again the example of Paris, it would make little sense to continue to place as many scooters near the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum.