Suddenly everything was relaxed: no more crowds on subways and buses, no more traffic jams on the way to work, no more tourists on e-trams blocking the already narrow bike lanes. The corona crisis has turned the way of moving upside down.
Many people suddenly started working at home. They only went out to shop. Streets, burgersteige and cycle paths remained largely empty.
What especially coarse city dwellers may have found pleasant despite all the stresses and strains, posed considerable problems for providers of transport services. Despite empty vehicles, the public transport system (opnv) continued to operate – and thus made massive losses. E-scooters, which used to be on every corner by the dozens, disappeared from the streets. And even car-sharing services and rental-bike providers saw a drop in demand, at least at the beginning of the crisis.
"These are only snapshots, however. What the changes will bring in the long term is another story," says andreas nienhaus, a traffic expert at the consulting firm oliver wyman.
Gradually, the users are returning. Buses, trains and streetcars are becoming more crowded. Providers of pedal scooters, bicycles and rental cars uniformly report rising user numbers again. But in the fiercely competitive market for mobility services, many experts agree that there will be changes, winners and losers.
One of the first is the bicycle. The two-wheeler industry reports the highest sales figures in its history for may within one month. In view of the continuing sales boom, it stands to reason that the rental bike market has also benefited: "our new registrations have gone through the roof in some cities," confirms mareike rauchhaus, spokeswoman for the rental bike provider nextbike. "We are reaching new user groups that might not have been aware of the bicycle if the crisis hadn’t happened."
Jashar seyfi, head of germany at e-tretroller and bike supplier lime, says: "it’s been interesting to see how quickly our bike business has picked up and how much stronger the bike is now compared to pre-corona times again."The e-tretroller business, on the other hand, developed a little more slowly.
At swapfiets, too, where bikes can be rented on a subscription basis for several weeks and months, managing director marc van pappelendam reports: "corona acts like a catalyst. We have doubled our customer numbers in our markets of germany, denmark, belgium and the netherlands in the last 12 months to 200,000 in the meantime."
Municipalities had recognized the trend: "major cities are currently investing massively and creating much better bicycle infrastructure," says van pappelendam, referring to pop-up bike lanes like those in berlin or koln. "Some are considering banning cars from city centers altogether – paris, for example."
But especially in germany, the battle for the strabe is far from decided. "The industry itself is assuming that the car will be the winner of the crisis to some extent," says transportation expert nienhaus. Even though new car registrations have plummeted across europe, that doesn’t have to stay that way in the long run. "There are demand programs that have been discussed very prominently in germany. And once I buy a car, I’m tied to one means of transport for the next five to ten years."
Car-sharing providers such as weshare, which belongs to VW, are therefore acting confidently. "We see that the topic of car-sharing is one of the corona crisis winners," chief executive philipp reth said recently. In the meantime, the occupancy rates for cars that can be booked via the app have even exceeded the figures from before the corona crisis.
However, the driving behavior of customers has changed: shorter distances to work have been eliminated. But the vehicles were booked longer and used for weekly shopping, for example, said reth. Starting this summer, the company plans to test a subscription model in berlin.
Lime is also planning this step for its bicycles and e-scooters. Scooters have been registered in germany for more than a year, and the market has always been fiercely contested. According to industry expert nienhaus, the fierce competition has become even tougher in the wake of the corona crisis. Most pedal scooter providers in germany had to completely stop their service during the crisis.
Smaller second-tier providers in particular have lost out in the most recent financing rounds, says nienhaus. And even financially strong providers like uber have pulled out completely and sold their fleets to the competition. While larger companies like lime, tier or bird have come through the crisis well, many smaller ones have been allowed to disappear in the medium term.
But the clear loser of the crisis is public transport. Ridership has plummeted by about 90 percent in many places. The industry estimates its own losses at around 5 billion euros. For nienhaus, that’s another reason why the car could soon be more present in city centers again. "You’re just realizing that all these mobility concepts can’t absorb the masses of people that are just being freed up by the slump in opnv," he said. "Many people are still switching to cars because of this."
If cities want to avoid a gridlock, they would be well advised to redesign the infrastructure in favor of other transport options. Pop-up bike lanes, in plain language, were not allowed to disappear again after the crisis.