Mobility in a post-COVID-19 world: collaborative efforts, EV push, and infrastructural change
The mobility sector seems to be at an inflection point.
The coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown drastically impacted the mobility sector, with rides plummeting by a whopping 77 percent. With social distancing being the best line of defence against COVID-19, governments across the world have mandated public transportation and ride-sharing companies to limit the number of passengers per vehicle.
In a panel discussion with YourStory, Dr CN Ashwath Narayan, Deputy Chief Minister, Karnataka; Vivekananda Hallekere, Co-founder and CEO,; Sudeept Maiti, Senior Manager, WRI India; and Pawan Mulukutla, Urban Mobility Expert; spoke about the key measures one needs to take in a post-COVID world.
Collaborative push towards faster EV adoption
Dr Ashwath Narayan began by emphasising the importance of collaborative efforts.
“The BMTC in a pre-COVID-19 world would take close to 50 lakh passengers, and the metro close to five lakh. Now, we are capping the limit. Apart from that we have taken every precaution in terms of sanitisation, protective gear, and regular medical checks,” he said.
Dr Ashwath Narayan explained that while the world was changing, with many companies offering work-from-home options, not every sector could do the same.
“There will be a lot of people looking for a sustainable and safe mode of transport. For that, there will be a need for overhauling infrastructure, working closely with startups and private organisations, and a push towards electric infrastructure.”
Pawan explained that this just wasn’t about bolstering the mobility ecosystem, but the economy at large. He spoke about the need to reimage the mobility ecosystem. Everyone understands that collaboration is extremely important, but degrees will matter and “how we bring them together will play an important role”.
“There are three things we need to build. First, automotive regional competitiveness to make Karnataka an EV manufacturing hub. For that we need to build strong incentives and policies that support it. Next, we need to build a strong supply or value chain. If there is a push towards new technologies, we need to make the value chain more accessible to startups. And finally, we need financial incentives and planning around mobility,” Pawan added.
He explained that people would keep changing their mode of transport based on their needs and it was time to look at all modes of transport.
Vivekanand Hallekere, of Bounce, said there was a push towards electric mobility even within the startup ecosystem. “Not only is it safe, but it also ensures healthy working of the current business models and unit economics,” he said.
It is important to look at infrastructure to bring in a change in the way we move and ensure complete collaboration.
Dr Ashwath Narayan pointed out that planning and the way mobility is viewed needed to change.
Explaining the different infrastructural shifts, Sudeept Maiti, of WRI India, said: “A concept called bubble spaces, which means campuses with work, housing, and entertainment, can reduce commute. These concepts are being considered at larger scale. For example, the NBA and Disney collaboration for the NBA season. These are long-term changes in policy in companies. Working from home is a norm and companies are letting go of their office spaces, this changes the travel demand.”
While those who can afford it will look at personalised mobility, that will be small percent. Going forward, there will be a need for public transport.
“We need to provide transportation systems with alternatives. One being the cycling and the MMT infrastructure, which changes the way people navigate within cities,” Sudeept says.
There are cities in the world where cycling has increased by 150 to 190 percent.
The role of shared mobility
Adding to this, Vivekananda said there has been a shift towards personal mobility the world over. China had seen an increase in the sale of personal vehicles and the use of single bike or cycle sharing, he added.
“In India, the problem is infrastructure and space. To change this, we have collaborated with local businesses for space where our two-wheelers can be parked. We are also working with them for three-way battery swapping, where we provide them with bank loans where they can buy electric vehicles,” he said.
Bounce is also working on differentiated bike-sharing and rental models. It has seen 6,000 to 7,000 rides since it resumed services with 1,300 scooters, compared to the pre-COVID-19 days when it had 1.5 lakh rides with 20,000 scooters, with the average ride costing up to Rs 85 now, from Rs 55 earlier.
A study conducted by China highlighted that there was a grave risk of community transmission in public transportation systems, even with social distancing. The study was published by the HU Shixiong of Hunan Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
There has already been a 70 to 90 percent drop in public transport across major cities in the world, while ride-hailing and micro-mobility has dropped 70 percent, according to a McKinsey report.
Dockless bikes diminish crowding of bikes in one spot, thereby reducing contact with other people while picking or dropping their rental off.
China has reported a 150 percent increase in shared bike or cycle rides, and companies there have been able to do that because of the dockless and self-drive system.
Regulatory shifts and changes
Emphasising the importance of collaborative work, Dr Ashwath Narayan said, “To bring in regulatory ease for collaboration we have set up a Sandbox, where any startup can reach out to us immediately, and we will give them the needed clearances as and when needed.”
He added, "we needed to ensure the presence of charging points and swapping stations every three to five km needed for faster EV adoption. We believe each building and commercial complex needs an electrical charging station. Our government is already working towards this. We are also working on manufacturing of electric vehicles.
The panel concluded by saying that the future of mobility in a post-COVID-19 world was in collaborative public and private transportation systems, faster EV adoption, and infrastructural changes.