Will Covid-19 be a red light for the future of urban mobility?

Our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at how the drive to develop shared electric and autonomous vehicles in cities is in danger of being stalled by the pandemic

As a second spike of the coronavirus pandemic threatens to put the brakes on reopening economies around the world, what effect will this have on the development of shared mobility solutions for our cities and our workforces?

As automotive industry watchers will know, we’ve been moving at great speed recently towards a world of CAVs and ACES: CAVs are Connected and Autonomous Vehicles; ACES are Autonomous, Connected, Electrified and Shared vehicles. They both belong to a new vision of electric and autonomous vehicles for cities, with the sharing economy as its driving force.

Driving into reverse?

The pace of development over the past two years has been rapid, but the question right now is whether the lingering Covid-19 crisis will push shared mobility services (SMS), which use smartphone technologies to access car sharing, carpooling and e-hailing, into reverse.

CAVs are expected to reduce congestion and pollution, increase productivity, create new jobs, reduce traffic accidents and help to solve mobility constraints on children, older and disabled people, according to the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

ACES push this trend even further in terms of disrupting traditional automotive markets – in 2019, electric vehicle sales set a new record globally and many cities, including London, have begun subsidised workplaces schemes to charge electric vehicles and thus accelerate the switch to electric by commuters.

According to a McKinsey report, regulators have also begun granting approval to drone flights and deliveries, and to electric vertical take-off and landing craft, thus opening the door to making flying taxis, robo-taxis and autonomous shuttles a viable service for the first time.

Meanwhile cities around the world have begun to clamp down hard on private car use in city centres. The impact of Covid-19, with more cycling and walking encouraged, is seeing more regulation introduced. It all adds up to the perfect runway for new forms of shared city transportation to set off, powered by electric and performing at higher levels of autonomy than ever seen before.

‘New forms of shared city transport will be powered by electric and perform at higher levels of autonomy …’

But now this movement risks being brought to a juddering halt by the global pandemic, which has badly shaken both investor confidence and customer willingness to share. McKinsey’s Centre for Future Mobility found that consumers have started to prioritise health over time-to-destination in the pandemic.

As a result of these changing priorities, consumers have started to prefer private cars, bikes and walking as their primary mode of transport – and shared mobility services (SMS) have declined in perception and use. Although McKinsey expects these services to recover in the long term, it’s become a hard road for CAVs and ACES. Like other sections of the economy, green lights are hard to find right now.

Boost for biophilic design

One trend accelerated rather than disrupted by coronavirus is a focus on employee wellbeing using biophilic design to reduce stress in office workers by bringing them closer to nature in the workplace. In this  context, we thought the global WORKTECH community might enjoy a rerun of an exclusive interview with designer Oliver Health, biophilic design ambassador and keynote speaker at WORKTECH Madrid and WORKTECH Wellnesss in 2017, in which he explains the three key principles of biophilic design.

These principles are: improving connection to real forms of nature such as trees and plants; evoking a sense of nature using natural materials and textures; and using direct and indirect connections to nature to create spaces that energise and stimulate people. View the interview below:

Virtual events planned

Finally, WORKTECH launches an important global series of virtual conferences next month with three major events planned for North America (13-14 October 2020), Asia Pacific (20-21 October) and UK and EMEA (27-29 October). Themes will include reimagining real estate, technology innovation for the new normal, and leadership and employee wellbeing through the crisis. A line-up of expert speakers from around the WORKTECH network is planned. More details here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional live conference series paused due to the coronavirus pandemic. This edition is posted 9 September 2020.
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