With many cities responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by facilitating walking and cycling, less attention has been paid to car sharing. Car sharing operators in Italy are planning their recovery.
Prior to the pandemic, car sharing was increasing in popularity. However, the impact of the pandemic on the car sharing sector has been huge. In Milan, the demand for car sharing services began to decline towards the end of February, with a drop of 26% over a single week. Two months later, demand is now down to 90% below pre-pandemic levels. This means that, whereas before the Covid-19 emergency, each car was driven by ten different users a day, today it is only one.
Currently, the restrictions imposed on mobility by the lockdown have clearly made a large contribution to the decline. However, in the near future, there are further uncertainties. There is a clear risk that user resistance to driving a car, without knowing who drove it before them, could stand in the way of a resurgence in car sharing.
Some companies are already taking action by recommending that users wear gloves and masks and by focusing on the implementation of intensive cleaning regimes, which, in some cases, are being done up to four times more frequently than before. This situation has also clearly increased the challenges associated with financial and logistics management for car sharing service providers.
According to a report prepared by Aniasa in 2019, the body that represents car sharing operators in Italy, the car sharing business model has developed. In the early years, it attracted new, but also curious, customers, whereas since 2018 it has finally begun to stabilise with a solid base of loyal users. However, with the costs of ordinary maintenance, occasional damage, insurance, fuel and municipal taxes, margins have been reduced. “As the service is consolidating, making profits remains a difficult task”, operators note. Now, the pandemic makes it even more difficult.
Aniasa's report, in common with other studies, demonstrates that car sharing has become an accepted part of mobility and a regular habit that, in cities like Milan or Rome, is now difficult to give up. It enables users to access areas, at times and using routes on which it is not convenient to invest in public transport. For this reason, companies are asking for the collaboration of local administrations to help them overcome the challenges posed by the current crisis.
“We do not ask for direct subsidies, but to suspend the payment of some municipal taxes" states Alberto Valecchi, Aniasa's sharing mobility coordinator.
“The point is that these are not competing companies: there are now several studies showing that they [car sharing services] are, rather, complementary to local public transport. There are situations in which the private car is not an alternative, and public transport is not fast enough. This reasoning could be the basis for the restart", says Emiliano Saurin, the founder of Urbi, a mobility service that aggregates the services of the main operators into a single app.
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Original article published by Wired.it on 6 May 2020.