Fear of contamination brings shared mobility to a halt
Companies offering shared mobility are struggling all over the world due to the corona outbreak. The fear of contamination is causing users to give up. Just as the number of users of shared bicycles, scooters, and cars began to rise. The number of shared cars grew by 250% in two years in Flanders, and even by 350% in Brussels, although it remains a niche.
But now that people are only allowed to make essential journeys, shared mobility usage is plummeting. There is also a fear of contamination by using shared bikes, e-scooters, and cars. And without traffic jams, people tend to use their car instead of public transport, where they also fear contamination. Last-mile solutions are, therefore, not necessary.
Shared bikes and scooters on hold
Cloudbike, which rents out bikes in Antwerp, was the last in a row of platforms to hold until further notice on Friday. In Brussels, the red Uber Jump bikes have disappeared for a while, just like the electric scooters.
Only the German company Dott still offers a reduced fleet in the capital. “Though it would be cheaper not to,” admits spokesman Zaïna Risaci in the newspaper De Standaard. “We’re losing a lot of money.”
“This is a tough one for the whole sector,” says Jan Vanderhoeven, spokesman for Lime, which took its e-scooters off the street. “Just as people were getting used to it. In other cities, we saw the number of rides drop by 80 to 90%.”
Shared cars remain operational
Car-sharing providers are still operational. Cambio, which has 23 000 users in Flanders, sees a decrease of about 80%. “Only necessary journeys are still being made,” says director Geert Gisquière. The Belgian company Poppy, which offers scooters in Brussels and Antwerp as well as shared cars, has seen a similar decline.
But despite the loss of income, the car-sharing companies are keeping their fleet operational. “The majority of our users do not have their own car, and depend heavily on our shared cars,” explains Gisquière. “We must continue to give them that guarantee.” But there is hardly any income, and the costs are rising, more cleaning and disinfection is needed.
How the business will fare after the corona crisis, nobody knows. Boston Consultancy Group expects that shared mobility companies will see their turnover decrease by at least half this year. They will not be able to recover their lower revenues after the crisis. And they were already looking for a profitable business model before the corona crisis.
Car-sharing services Zipcar, Ubeeqo and ShareNow, supported by Avis, Europcar, and BMW/Daimler respectively, pulled the plug on their Belgian activities last year after increasing losses.
Poppy, which can count on D’Ieteren’s support, took over part of the market but is also looking for a profitable business model. Only Cambio, which, unlike the other players, works with fixed sites for its cars, made a small profit.
Losses are also accumulating at the providers of shared e-scooters and bicycles. Last week, Lime and Bird asked the U.S. government for help. Our sector faces an “existential threat”, they wrote in a letter to Congress.
Smaller start-ups will get into trouble, according to Michael Grandfils, director of Labbox, which supports mobility start-ups Poppy and Scooty. He feels the crisis could accelerate the consolidation wave in the sector, which is good for service thanks to scale.
In the longer term, Grandfils sees a future for the sector. “This pandemic will not solve the Belgian traffic situation. And the question is who will want to get into an overcrowded bus.”