Five COVID-19 aftershocks reshaping mobility’s future

Аналитики McKinsey уверены, что пандемия меняет образ мобильности на наших глазах и окажет на него глобальное влияние в будущем


СOVID-19 has swept the globe in a matter of months, jeopardizing lives, upending businesses, and setting off a worldwide economic slump. While researchers work to develop a vaccine, with the threat of infection looming, consumers are newly refocused on health. We see this prominently in the mobility sector, with passengers largely favoring modes of transportation perceived as safer and more hygienic, such as private cars over ridesharing. Against a backdrop of mass layoffs, disrupted travel, and public-transit ridership down 70 to 90 percent in the world’s major cities, shared mobility—and mobility in general—is struggling. In particular, rumors of the demise of shared mobility are everywhere. Suddenly, private cars are in, shared rides are out, and the best-laid plans of mobility players appear to be in tatters. But are they really?

Developments in personal mobility have coalesced around four disruptions known as ACES: autonomous driving, connected cars, electrified vehicles, and shared mobility. However, since the global pandemic has far-reaching implications on consumer behavior, policy making, and regional trends, automotive and mobility players need to look beyond ACES to consider what will likely influence mobility’s “next normal.”

Understanding COVID-19’s lasting impact

Long term, COVID-19 could have a sustained influence on mobility, driving changes in the macroeconomic environment, regulatory trends, technology, and consumer behavior. Because virus-related trends can vary by region, the responses of mobility players and the outcomes themselves will likely differ by location as well. In this article, we describe what the next normal in mobility could look like and highlight the trends that will define the competitive and technological landscape.

1. More customers emphasize health, safety, and reliability

Cost and convenience have traditionally played key deciding roles when customers choose transport modes. Now reducing the risk of infections is the top reason many travelers make those choices, overtaking even destination time in importance (Exhibit 1). That holds true for both private and business trips. Interestingly, trip price has lost relevance, especially for private travel.

With the pandemic, health considerations are more important. Consequently, transport options that guarantee physical distancing will win out over others. In this environment, the use of private cars or biking, walking, and shared micromobility could outpace public transport. Of these, walking and biking are currently the most attractive options.

Based on a recent McKinsey survey of consumer-car-buying behavior during the pandemic, nearly 70 percent of mobility users in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and China said they would choose to walk or bike at least weekly even after returning to normal life (up six percentage points from precrisis levels). Likewise, private cars gained one percentage point (from 78 percent precrisis to 79 percent after returning to normal life). And, after intense drops in ridership, public transportation users will likely return to at least weekly usage, at around 40 percent. Moreover, shared micromobility, e-hailing, and carsharing should all be slightly more popular, gaining 1 to 2 percent postcrisis when normal life returns. Hence, the overall desire of customers to “move” remains intact.

What’s more, even a sizable increase in the number of people working from home would likely not affect mobility demand in the long term. In Germany, for example, even if the amount of people working from home once a week were to increase two and a half times, our analysis shows that it would only reduce the number of trips taken by 2 percent and the number of kilometers (km) driven by 4 percent.

Bigger changes are likely to occur with long-distance travel between cities. Here we see a substantial shift from the use of planes and trains to cars. About 40 percent of global consumers said they would fly less than before in the next normal, while only 16 percent said they would fly more often. In addition, 32 percent said they would travel by train less often (versus the 18 percent who said they would more often travel by train). By contrast, many more people, 32 percent, said they would travel more frequently by private car, while only 13 percent said they would travel less by car. Because of this, miles traveled on roads might increase substantially, at least in the aftermath of the pandemic. Whether this will have an impact on private-car ownership, affect car rentals, or allow clever shared-ownership models to prosper remains unclear.

2. Policy makers increasingly shape mobility’s future

Right now, governments around the globe are severely restricting mobility and overall lifestyle choices. However, in the aftermath of the most critical stage of the pandemic, regulators will likely increase their influence over mobility to either accelerate the disruption or slow it down.

As a means to stimulate the economy, governments could launch policies favoring low-emission vehicles or, by contrast, relax emission standards—as US authorities have done. The Chinese government recently extended its support for new-energy vehicles by exempting them from a 10 percent purchase tax and maintaining subsidies for Chinese-branded electric vehicles (EVs) until 2022. Likewise, Germany has increased its “environment bonus” for EVs to a maximum of 9,000 euros, paid toward the purchase of a new car. Governments are also expanding their favorable policies to eco-friendly travel beyond cars; for instance, Italy is offering its citizens a bonus of 500 euros for buying a bike, which has led to sold-out bike shops.

In some countries, the state might even extend its influence in the mobility sector by becoming a shareholder in struggling companies. One example of this is in the airline industry.

Cities and government planners are constantly making mobility decisions. They have to design car lanes, pedestrian walkways, EV charging infrastructure, and much more. As consumer behavior has shifted during the course of the pandemic, decision makers have increasingly put cities at the center of the discussions. We expect that the role of cities to foment change will only increase, as people become more interested and invested in the future of mobility.

Some recent examples:

  • Milan announced it will transform 35 km (about 22 miles) of streets previously used by cars to walking and cycling lanes after the lockdown.
  • Paris will devote 50 km (30 miles) of lanes usually reserved for cars to bicycles; it also plans to invest $325 million to update its bicycle network.
  • Brussels has continued transforming 40 km (25 miles) of car lanes into bike paths.
  • Seattle permanently closed 30 km (20 miles) of streets to most vehicles at the end of May, providing more space for people to walk and bike after the lockdown.
  • Montreal announced the creation of over 320 km (200 miles) of new pedestrian and bike paths across the city.
  • Berlin has repurposed some residential streets as “play streets” on Sundays during the lockdown and is also discussing the possibility of extending the program to other days of the week.

Such activities suggest that cities could become decisive actors shaping mobility’s future. Authorities could issue “license to operate” permission to mobility providers and take measures to encourage certain modes of transport they consider beneficial. For example, in partnership with a micromobility player, Portland decided to temporarily waive daily fees for e-scooters in exchange for the company’s offering of reduced fares. Similarly, the city of Rome has recently partnered with another micromobility player to launch e-scooter services in the city, promoting it as a sustainable and technologically innovative mobility solution.

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