“Shared mobility could substitute many cars, and the impact of this on mobility, on a macro level, is large, and should not be underestimated.” This was a headline in one of the articles I read in Circa Feb 2020. What a change the world has gone through in the last 60 days. The new normal is closed in, as opposed to open, private as opposed to public, individual as opposed to shared.
The mobility industry, which was on the cusp of completely transitioning to a shared mobility platform, finds itself against this new normal. So how will this new normal play out in the mobility space especially for India, given that mobility is a basic human need?
Sharing is off the charts. Car sharing, bike sharing, peer-to-peer ride sharing will probably be off the charts for months if not years. This will lead to shared mobility start-ups having to tweak their business models. The weak in this space will lose way to consolidation in this space.
One of the biggest impacts to mobility will be on the back of change in consumer behaviour. In general, people will prefer either working from home or at best finding employment closest to home. This will drive down urban mobility which is largely a home-office-home segment. This, in turn, will push the growth of localised individual transport such as walking and biking, which can already be seen in the Chinese resurgence post the pandemic.
The government will have to rewrite road rules to support the pedestrians and cyclists. Logically, investments in the shared mobility space will be diverted to individual micro mobility.
Since there will be significantly lesser people travelling long distances to office, the roads will open up for private cars. Also, the fear of using public and shared transport will drive this surge in small car and 2-wheeler purchases.
This is where electric mobility will kick in across levels – from electric cycles, electric scooters to electric cars. While different governments will react differently across countries – some will use the collapse of the oil-based economy to focus on sustainable mobility; some countries like India will be forced to support the ailing automotive industries. Nonetheless, India will see a significant focus on clean mobility and an increase in adoption of electric-vehicles.
Mobility solutions, which support physical distancing, will drive the slow, but painful growth, back to shared mobility. But, this will come with an added cost of making sure that disinfection is ensured. The added cost will not only be on account of operation cost of disinfection but demonstrating and proving this out, for e.g. sensors and displays will become the norm to show when a vehicle was last disinfected.
Unfortunately, fear will drive business and regulatory changes in the mobility sector, since no government would want to be seen providing any service, which inadvertently propagates the spread of this or any other infection.
At the end of it all, given that uncertainty is the most certain thing, I would hazard to position this view as a prediction, I will keep my bets off the table.
- Maxson Lewis
- The author is MD of Magenta Power.