4 May 20

Shared mobility services and public transport: friends or enemies amid COVID-19?

As COVID-19 forces the reduction or cancellation of bus and train services, the relationship between traditional public transport and new mobility services is in the spotlight. Do these new mobility solutions provide a welcome alternative when public transport cannot meet the needs of travellers? Or are they an existential threat, hammering the final nails into the coffin of public transport?

When lockdown restrictions are eventually lifted, will city authorities find that ridehailing and carsharing have removed people from public transport? Or will these app-based services have secured an essential role as a last mile solution to and from bus stops and train stations? Will bikeshare and e-scooter schemes lure people out of their cars, or simply make life more difficult for pedestrians by blocking pavements?

Public transport pressures

With many older cities struggling to expand the capacity of their old public transport networks, authorities are looking for partners and solutions to ease overcrowding on buses and trains, especially at peak times, while simultaneously cutting traffic congestion and pollution.

The potential exists for new mobility services and public transport to support each other, but the danger is that new mobility solutions cannibalise public transport. Pitched against the inflexibility of bus and trains, with their rigid timetables, clunky ticketing and fixed stops, on-demand transport treats travellers like customers, picking them up and delivering them where they want, when they want, paid for through the convenience of an app.

Seismic shift to individual transportation

In a new report, Arthur D Little says the arrival of ride hailing companies has ‘triggered a seismic shift’ towards shared individual transportation, putting them on a collision course with the public mobility ecosystem. However, the same report also suggested that these new mobility providers “have the potential to provide an efficient and convenient complementary service to existing mobility solutions in urban areas.”

On-demand minibus company ViaVan, for example, is working with public transport authorities in cities such as Oslo, Helsinki, Berlin, Liverpool and London to re-engineer public transit from its historic system of rigid routes and schedules to a dynamic, on-demand network.

Chris Snyder, CEO of ViaVan, believes the next few years will see cities looking to provide their citizens with transport that “provides the same ease and convenience as private car ownership, and yet still achieves the same environmental and congestion-reducing benefits of mass transport.”

New mobility must complement public transport

For Michael Hurwitz, Director of Transport Innovation, Transport for London, new mobility services must support the existing public transport system.

“I like it when a new mobility business model complements the public transport model, when it allows the less able to remain socially and economically active, when something is available to everybody, and when it encourages an active lifestyle and is environmentally friendly,” he said. “But I like it less when you take 60 people out of a double-decker bus and smear them around 60 pods or cars.”

Yet there are signs that city authorities see the advantages of working with mobility suppliers.

Yann Hervouet, CEO Instant System, which creates white label Mobility as a Service platforms for cities including Paris and Brussels, said: “Half the itineraries we plan in Paris are more efficient with intermodal schemes.”

This means journey times would be quicker if travellers used a combination of public transport and new mobility solutions.

“For example, e-scooters and public transport is about 30% faster,” said Hervouet.

Collaboration and cooperation

All of this points to an ideal world where policymakers and mobility suppliers collaborate to integrate new modes of transport into the existing public transport infrastructure, adopting the technological and customer-focused advantages of start-ups with the benefits of public transport in terms of speedy mass transit.


Photo: Shutterstock

Authored by: Jonathan Manning