How COVID-19 affects carsharing?

How will carsharing recover from the COVID-19?

The COVID-19 outbreak has affected the sharing economy, including the carsharing and ride-sharing business models. For instance, if you want an Airbnb flat, you may want a special cleaning regime that guarantees complete disinfection. If you want to use Uber, which is a Ride Hailing service, you need trust that efforts have been made to prevent infection from the driver  or the vehicle. But carsharing faces bigger challenges because it is not possible for the owner to take care of the vehicle after every service. Needless to say, the situation is worse for ride sharing services since a trip may involves a greater number of passengers.

High business impact due to the pandemic

Before the pandemic, the carsharing business was booming: almost 1,000 cities have offered carsharing services in the last three years, amounting to an increase of 47% in those offers. (Carsharing Market & Growth Analysis 2019, 10 July 2019, https://movmi.net/carsharing-market-growth-2019) However, the outbreak’s impact on the sector is huge. In Milan, one of the most affected zones in Italy, the demand for this type of services began to decline at the end of February, dropping 26% over a single week. Two months later, the demand was down by 90% compared to January 2020, before the unfolding of the pandemic.

The negative impact was mainly a result  of the WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations to maintain social distancing and avoid sharing the same space with multiple people. At the same time, the Italian government limited the number of passengers per vehicle in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Different urgent measures were taken by companies such as pausing the service while looking for a solution, the strategy of Zity in Madrid, or decreasing the price.When governments established the rule that only necessary trips were allowed, companies reacted  by making the ‘necessary trips’ to a cheaper price point.

Although governments have been removing some restricting measures, the health recommendations’  overall direction remains. Therefore, carsharing companies must adopt certain health & safety measures in line with the new reality.

How to solve or mitigate the risks?

Although there is a risk of infection in carsharing, it is still perceived to be safer than public transport.

Although COVID-19 has impacted the emerging sharing economy, car and ride sharing has certain advantages over traditional public transport: since there are less people (tend to be relatives or living together) sharing the same space, the spread of the disease is reduced.

From the beginning of the pandemic, different approaches have been taken by carsharing companies:

  • Limit the number of passengers per car: most companies have been reducing the number of passengers, following the recommendation of the WHO or the measures taken by governments. For example, BlablaCar allows users to share a trip only with a passenger.
  • Improved cleaning: small and effective measures can prevent the spread of the infection: intensifying cleaning regimes or providing individual disinfecting wipes. In the latter case, the owner or the administrator of the vehicle can leave individual wipes in the car to be used by passengers to disinfect specific parts of the vehicle. For example, Wible has tripled cleaning tasks. Finally, the use of gloves and masks to protect other passengers, and the use of hydroalcoholic gel for hands is a recommended procedure for every passenger.
  • Establish daily recurring trips, sharing the service with the same people through social network connections so the risk is contained.

But with regard to technological solutions, there are some important benefits that only a technologically advanced company can provide to the car sharing model, including but not limited to:

  • Mask detention: by means of artificial intelligence it is possible to develop algorithms which can detect if passengers are wearing the mandatory mask. This can be done by an onboard camera or through the service’s mobile application. In this case, all carsharing users need to use this application. The purpose of this feature would be the detection of masks without storing personal information or images of the users.
  • Every carsharing service relies on an application, usually a mobile application, to interact with the service. When you do not want to share a trip with another passenger, the application must give the driver the opportunity to decide about that. Therefore, the driver decides if his travel is published or if it is a private ride.
  • Social traceability: when a user notifies the carsharing provider that he or she has got the disease, the system can automatically notify users who shared the same car or rides. This traceability feature can use cryptography to signal other users without the need for individual identification or account / personal information.
  • Lastly, tools like video analysis software allow to control the number of passengers in each ride, therefore the company or the service can enforce social distance rules. 

Conclusion

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact over the carsharing and carpooling business. Companies need to adapt their services to the new situation. Some of the necessary tasks are simple: reinforcing cleaning tasks and the use of hygienic procedures are some examples of government policies that every business has to address in their daily routines. Providing solid service-oriented technological solutions is a tougher challenge AGILIA is decidedly engaged in the creation of new possibilities, attentive to developments at the level of recommendations and restrictions by authorities regarding the current pandemic, as well as possible future events.

The development of new technologies to protect car and ride-sharing users against COVID-19 is spearheading AGILIA’s use case in ARTICONF. These technologies include AI algorithms and a decentralized social ecosystem that support developing new and innovative features, allowing users to continue using carsharing services in a healthy and safe environment.

This blog post was written by Agilia Center team.

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ANNEX

Kate Orton-Johnson, Programme Director, MSc Digital Society at The University of Edinburgh introduces ARTICONF tools with the carsharing use case.