Will CoronaVirus halt Car Sharing?

The Covid-19 pandemic hit the entire transportation sector very hard; in some cases it has completely stopped various means of mobility, such as car sharing. But, once we get through the lockdown, what will the effects of the coexistence with Coronavirus be? How will it affect our habits in terms of mobility, especially in the most overcrowded cities? 

To shape a reliable image of what the future might be like, we can use recent statistics from China, where the pandemic is in remission. 

According to the Ipsos research, a radical change with regard to car purchasing intention has taken place, especially compared to other means of mobility (to begin with, public transport). 

 

Coronavirus effects on purchasing car and car sharing
Ipsos, 09/04/2020 - Impact of Coronavirus on the purchase of new cars in China

Is the privately owned vehicle making a comeback also in the city?

In the face of such compelling data, we can assume that car sales will harness a major reboost, even in the short term. But is this a sustainable trend, if we consider the density of a metropolis and all the commuters that dwell it on a daily basis? 

The private vehicle will definitely benefit from psychological biases: fear of contamination when sharing a vehicle, feeling of protection given by your own car.

These factors will work against two aspects that had given car sharing its incredible momentum until January 2020: the purchasing cost of the vehicle and the car becoming more and more redundant as a means of transportation (within the city at least). Stable elements to be expected also in the near future. 

Car sharing, is it still a valid option?

What is then the halting factor that might cause an actual stop of the car sharing industry in the following months?

 

For sure, the disinfection of the vehicle is going to be the first  issue that those who propose this kind of service will have to face. Having some technical operators sanitizing the vehicle right after its (brief) usage, reporting the accomplished sanitation and convincing the following customer to use it sounds like an unsustainable and complex process, from an economical point of view. 

Disinfection of the car is the key factor

We are constantly reminded by the media about the virus’ capacity of surviving on plastic or metal surfaces. And very few clients would be willing to sanitize a leased vehicle only to drive a few miles, provided that they are equipped with protection gear and disinfectant

Disinfection of the car in car sharing

Going back to the data we gathered by interviews with China (and from the last report by Aretè, end of April), we are noticing that there is still a good percentage of people willing to consider car sharing as a way to get around.

 

Both Chinese and Italian data are showing a result slightly above 2% when 5,2 million of Italians were harnessing the benefits of these services at the end of 2018 (figures from the OSM). Namely, around a eight of the population that uses means of transportation. 

How will the Car Sharing sector react?

Since ensuring a sanitized vehicle to everyone is going to be impossible, car sharing companies won’t be able to survive only on those citizens that are willing to use a potentially contaminated vehicle.

A possible way out could be going back to the medium- long-term leasing, that means granting customers a vehicle that will embed sustainable sanitizing costs in the leasing contract. Operators that will embrace this new form of car sharing might clash with dealers, let alone big specialized companies, who are making a great business opportunity out of long term leasing.

Radical Change of Mobility as a Service

At any rate, all hypotheses must be framed into a collective change of scenario, even of the very concept of MaaS: if our first reaction is to consider the private vehicle as a “shelter”, our future choices will be determined by:  actual needs (available budget, traffic, parking space) and real alternatives (public service, green mobility). 

The word crisis in Chinese is made of two symbols. One stands for peril, the other one for opportunity.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

One of the possible positive effects of Coronavirus is exactly linked to rethinking urban mobility, namely rethinking the whole scenario where car sharing boomed and became a solid habit. 

The uprooting of our habits and, before that, of our certainties, might lead to cities paralyzed in traffic or on the other hand, more livable centres where mobility and personal safety  will coexist. As for the future of car sharing, we will have to wait and see what happens in the following, crucial months. 

With regard to sanitizing methods, I suggest reading this article on the available technologies.