Personal Mobility and Public Transportation in a Post-COVID Landscape
Very rarely are we, as a society, given such a major lifestyle reset button as the one we have experienced with COVID-19. Never before have we had a better opportunity to break out of the rut of our everyday routines and reevaluate our lifestyle choices, behaviors, and what we hold most important. For some, this has resulted in adopting a new hobby like baking loaves of sourdough bread or rereading an entire book series, and for others, this has resulted in a greater appreciation for quality time. But, for all of us, it has resulted in changes to our daily lives that are new, perhaps a bit unnerving, and more conscious.
And as we start to navigate re-opening storefronts, sitting outside at our favorite restaurants, and returning back to the workplace, one topic continues to be at the forefront of the conversation - how do we get there? Especially in cities, where a large portion of the population does not own cars and alternatives like ride-sharing platforms and public transportation may not be the safest options.
So what does personal transportation in Boston really look like in a post-pandemic world? We have a few predictions…
The first priority of personal travelers will be safety, as individuals will opt for transportation that makes it easier to sanitize, crowd control, and remain at a six-foot distance. Under these terms, the most obvious choices are personally-owned vehicles, such as cars, bikes, motorcycles, electric scooters, etc. or traveling by foot. However, no one choice is particularly perfect or risk-free. For example, cars come with the requirement of having to make visits to the gas station (where pumps were already considered one of the most germ-ridden things you touch) and walking may not be feasible for every trip. So each person will have to decide what safety means for them, determine what mode makes them feel the most comfortable, and make adjustments as needed.
Public transportation is still a necessity in society, but has presented a major roadblock in terms of the pandemic. Traveling by train or bus en masse not only forces individuals to share a small space, but it also makes it difficult to enforce social distancing regulations or regularly sanitize appropriately. In a survey conducted by IBM, more than 20% of respondents who regularly use public transportation said they no longer would and another 28% said they will use it less often. Therefore, we predict that cities and states will start to turn their focus towards promoting other forms of mobility, such as increasing the number of bike or electric vehicle rental services available.
Employers have even expressed concern in allowing their employees to return back to the office if they rely on public transit to do so. This may result in a spike of companies that provide rebates or subsidies to workers that are willing to adopt alternative methods of transportation that adhere to social distancing. On the other hand, it may result in more companies offering a permanent “work from home” or “work from anywhere” policy. According to an article in Bloomberg, the desire to get back to the physical workplace varies based on how, and how long, employees travel to get there. Of their survey respondents, 69% stated they missed some element of their commute, but this was split dramatically by the respondent’s vehicle of choice as 55% of car commuters said they did not miss their commutes at all but 91% of bike commuters said they miss at least some aspects of theirs.
Therefore, even if only out of regulations, we expect to see a spike in the number of individuals and work commuters, that choose to travel by types of bikes or scooters.
It’s no secret that keeping humans indoors has had a dramatic positive effect on the environment, such as lower pollution, higher animal population return rates, and less oil consumption. But it has also created a new wave of individuals interested in re-dedicating their efforts to stopping climate change, inspired by the boost provided by quarantine, and one area where people can easily lower their carbon footprint is through transportation.
Individuals are opting for low or zero-emission vehicles like bikes, e-bikes, and scooters, and not just for getting out of the house and exercising, but for replacing some of their routine trips to the store or for running errands. Therefore, we predict these environmentally-friendly habits will extend far past quarantine, as once the change has been made and becomes a part of everyday routine, it has a high likelihood of sticking. This will result in a transportation landscape that has lower emissions, less traffic congestion, and higher air quality. And who doesn’t want those things? Just because the pandemic may have put a stint in some of our personal goals, it does not mean it has to place a setback on our climate goals.
Additionally, an article in Bloomberg Green noted that more than half of the dramatically decreased demand for oil observed in 2020 is due to the increase in two or three-wheeled electric vehicles on the road. And we think they said it best, “Each one of those little vehicles takes a tiny nibble out of global oil demand, but it’s not the size of the bite that matters. It’s the collective appetite.”
And speaking of electric vehicles, we believe they’re the future - and more specifically, the smaller, the better. Electric micromobility vehicles, such as electric bikes, scooters, and mopeds, provide obvious benefits over electric cars like being cheaper and easier to charge. But they are also more conducive to a post-COVID landscape.
First things first, electric micromobility vehicles allow social distancing to be possible, as they should not be ridden closer than six-feet apart in the first place. They can also be ridden easily while wearing a face mask, or better yet, a helmet with a face-shielding element. And if the idea of replacing car rides with something like an e-bike ride seems intimidating, it is important to note that the change will only be as dramatic as you want it to be! Electric micromobility vehicles can be configured to have cargo space, carry children, require as much or as little exercise as you would like, and incorporate crucial safety features.
The second reason is that electric micromobility vehicles cost less to purchase and to maintain, and with unemployment at depression levels, this becomes even more important. Based on the same survey mentioned above by IBM, ⅓ of respondents said that the negative financial effects of COVID-19 will greatly influence their decision to buy a vehicle even after quarantine and more than ¼ said that a lack of confidence in the economic outlook will likely push their decision to buy a vehicle back by as much as 6 months. Therefore, the idea of purchasing or renting a micromobility vehicle might be an easier pill to swallow right now as the cost of ownership is relatively low.
Electric micromobility vehicles are also more cost-effective for cities themselves, as they require less investment in supportive infrastructures such as charging stations or parking. But if the thought of buying an alternative type of electric vehicle is still daunting, some cities are providing the opportunity to go on test rides or rent them for a short amount of time to see if it could be a good fit for you.
In Boston specifically, our team at SomEV is partnering with Somernova (aka Somerville’s Innovation Campus) to pilot a program in Somerville that allows anyone to rent an electric micromobility vehicle for up to 6-hours. Riders can use this as an opportunity to try out their commutes, run a couple of errands, or simply go on a joy ride to see if electric micromobility is right for you before making a big purchase. And, of course, if you find it is right for you - we can help get you set up with everything you need to know about our vehicles and their battery leasing program.
Electric micromobility vehicles are the way to go in a post-COVID world when you’re considering the purchase of a new personal vehicle, and the numbers don’t lie. In their annual technology, media, and telecommunications predictions report, Deloitte predicted that it expects 130 million e-bikes to be sold globally between 2020 and 2023, noting that “the number of e-bikes on the roads will easily outpace other e-vehicles by the end of next year.” And we like the sound of that.
Picture this, the narrow lanes of Storrow Drive being shared by electric scooters and mopeds, the ambiance of Newbury Street enhanced by replacing car traffic with bicycles and pedestrians, and Beacon Hill being taken over by e-bikes leaning against brownstones. No longer are bicyclists seen as a nuisance to cars or forced to choose between weaving through dangerous traffic or sticking to the Charles River bike path. Boston joins the movement to shift away from gasoline-powered cars to zero-emission vehicles and begins to revamp streets to serve its people, not hunks of metal. The result? A happier and healthier personal transportation system that works towards the greater good of the community and the city we call home.
This is truly an opportunity to rethink mobility and how we choose to travel for the better, let’s not waste it.