Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, scooter companies have laid off workers, rides on Lyft and Uber have dropped more than 60%, and testing for autonomous vehicles has been paused. Taking hospital employees and other frontline workers to and from work may be a small bright spot for mobility companies during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Via, an on-demand ride hailing service, and the city of Washington, D.C., launched a service to
provide on-demand transit service for essential healthcare workers at two D.C. metro area hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mobility company Via and Washington DC are offering rides to work afterhours for hospital employees.
Image: Via

The project has repurposed the existing D.C. Neighborhood Connect service to provide rides to and from work for $3 after 9 p.m when public transit is limited. The service zone includes all of D.C. and parts of Maryland.

Healthcare workers enter a ride code provided by their hospital using the D.C. Neighborhood Connect app to hail one of 11 high-capacity vehicles. Via’s advanced algorithms organize routes and riders to allow a maximum of three healthcare workers to share a vehicle. Via’s technology directs passengers to a nearby corner for pickup, allowing for quick and efficient shared trips without lengthy detours, fixed routes, or schedules.

“Our partnership with [the Department of For-Hire Vehicles] DFHV demonstrates how technology-enabled solutions can swiftly step in to utilize existing infrastructure to provide safe, reliable, and efficient mobility services for essential workers, while complementing existing public transit systems,” said Via CEO and co-founder Daniel Ramot in a press release.

As of May 4, there were 2,367 deaths and 52,695 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia region. Mayor Muriel Bowser has a stay-at-home order in place until May 15.

Lyft also is helping healthcare and other critical employees get to work. The ride-hailing company is offering free bike memberships and scooter rides in cities across the country. In D.C. specifically, healthcare workers can get free Capital Bikeshare memberships and free Lyft scooter rides through the end of May.

In New York City, Lyft is working with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Citi Bike to expand the Critical Workforce Membership Program, which makes bike memberships available to first responder, transit, and healthcare workers. More than 5,500 people have joined the program since it began offering a free month of Citi Bike rides in March. Now, the program will include full-year annual memberships and expand its benefits to include workers at critical food-related non-profits and essential City employees. The company is also offering free bike share memberships for critical workers in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

Uber is providing free meals and free rides to first responders and healthcare workers around the world as well as rides to work.

“Crisis years” look bleak for transportation companies

Mobility companies have reoriented their operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but the next few years may be difficult. In a recent blog post, Mckinsey analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on future mobility solutions and considered macroeconomic developments, consumer behavior, regulatory developments, and technology readiness

In the short term–the crisis years of 2020-21 as the analysts describe it–consumers in North America will prefer personal cars for getting around to reduce the risk of infection. The analysts also predict that transportation policies and laws to support the adoption of electric cars and increase fuel economy standards will be weakened. At the same time, policies to reduce private-car ownership will be dropped.

In Europe, governments are more likely to support shared-mobility solutions and electric vehicles during the crisis and even more afterward. The analysts wrote:

“Some might view the crisis as an inflection point to accelerate the transition toward sustainable mobility, while others could loosen regulatory mandates to prop up their ailing automotive industries.
Over the long term, however, AVs, micromobility solutions, and other technologies that support physical distancing could benefit. We believe that customer demand for these solutions could soar once the initial crisis subsides, increasing their attractiveness to investors.”

Image: McKinsey & Company