Nothing is the way it used to be. The Coronavirus has disrupted life in big cities and how we stay on the move. How exactly? We take a look at the car-sharing numbers this year and – in a joint paper together with the Mobility Institute Berlin (mib) – studied the role of car-sharing during and after the first peak of the pandemic in March-April 2020. The results surprised everyone. Here's what we found 👇
Car-sharing utilisation dropped dramatically during the lockdown. People in cities made shorter trips overall, opting in these cases for open-air travel such as walking and biking. In April 2020, car-sharing trips plummeted to around 56% of pre-crisis levels in Berlin and to 62% in Hamburg. Unfortunately, things looked grimmer for public transport. In the same period, in both cities, public transport reached its lowest point with a decline of more than 80% in passengers.
We saw a surprising comeback in the summer when more people started to get back on the move. In July 2020, after the lockdown ended in Germany, there were 45% more car-sharing trips than in April 2020. In the Hamburg Home Area, there were 55% more trips during this time. By mid-June, the total amount of SHARE NOW trip minutes returned to around 90% of pre-crisis levels. In comparison, public transport in Berlin only gained back 20% of passengers in the same period. Both during and after the first peak of the pandemic, users placed more trust in car-sharing than in public transport.
People may be making shorter trips, but they are keeping cars for longer. When we studied the total number of trip minutes over a period of time, we saw a clear increase in total trip time. The average car-sharing trip duration in Germany is up by 27% compared to earlier this year – basically ever since the pandemic began. In Frankfurt, cars are being rented up to 70% longer than before. In Berlin, the average trip duration increased during the crisis from around 26 minutes to around 32 minutes – an increase of almost 25%. In May 2020, total trip minutes even outstripped pre-crisis levels.
Urban planners have long despaired over rush hour in cities. Congested roads, higher levels of air and noise pollution, more accidents, and – in overcrowded public transport – higher risk of disease transmission. As more people work from home during the pandemic, rush hour has almost ceased to exist. In our joint paper, we see this trend in our car-sharing figures as well: The use of car-sharing has fallen sharply in the early morning and evening hours. Instead, utilisation is relatively stable and spread-out from late morning until early evening. By mid-June, the number of car-sharing trips between 10AM and 5PM had even risen back to around 75% of pre-crisis levels.
You've probably experienced it yourself. Availability is a problem in the city centre – just where you need a car most. In pre-crisis times, it was a huge challenge to get our free-floating cars equally distributed around the Home Area. By using a heat-map (see the example of Berlin below) to visualise the frequency of app openings by location, we noticed an interesting trend in SHARE NOW cities this year. During the pandemic, car-sharing use dropped dramatically in the city centre ( 🔴) and increased in the urban periphery ( 🟢). This means that car-sharing is spreading out towards the outer reaches of the city and being distributed more equally throughout the city.
Surveys show that the Coronavirus pandemic is increasing renewed interest in private car ownership. Around 20% of public transport users in Germany intend to continue avoiding public transport even after the pandemic. One third of people without cars missed having one. As more people look for a low-risk way to stay on the move, many are considering buying their own car. In cities where car-sharing is available, however, our cars are fulfilling short-term demand for a car. According to a recent survey in Berlin, almost a quarter of car-sharing users without a car answered that they would have bought a car if they didn't have access to car-sharing. As long as there's car-sharing in the city right now, urban demand for a car is being met until people can rely again on public transport in the future.
Business has been tough this year, but we take heart in the fact that car-sharing is still playing an important role in your everyday life during the pandemic. Where biking, walking, and public transport will not do – car-sharing is stepping in as a weatherproof and lower-risk mode of long-distance transport. It's also stepping in to meet the temporary surge in demand for your own car. Even before the pandemic, studies have shown how car-sharing has the potential to reduce car ownership and congestion in cities: Each shared car can take up to 18.6 cars off the streets. As long as people have access to car-sharing right now, they are more likely to continue using a mix of car-sharing and public transport in the future. And that's going to keep us all on track for improving life in cities.
Studies and references mentioned above – and more – can be found in the joint paper "More protection, less congestion: The role of car-sharing in the Corona pandemic" by our colleagues in the SHARE NOW Business Intelligence Team and the Mobility Institute Berlin (mib).