As the world grapples with the twin crises of a global pandemic and the potential for a severe and prolonged economic downturn, the imminent emergence of a new mobility ecosystem appears in doubt. The situation is so fluid, uncertain, and complex that acting with certainty or even conviction can feel less bold than reckless.
But leaders can’t sit back and wait to see how it all plays out, and that’s where scenario thinking comes in, clarifying the choices before us—and their potential implications. To that end, we explored four possible futures of mobility over the next three to five years, driven by the longevity and severity of the pandemic and the degree of cooperation between and within governments. (We invite you to explore these scenarios and trends in greater depth in the full article, The futures of mobility after Covid-19.)
· A passing storm: Acute but brief public health and economic crises accentuate some enduring shifts in mobility trends, including increased reliance on e-commerce and home delivery and greater emphasis on sanitation and safety. Despite a temporary pullback, most providers and governments return to their status quo ante roles. “Typical” business cycle downturn dynamics play out, with consolidation taking place across the board, from small mobility startups to larger incumbents.
· Good company: Public goods, including transportation, are increasingly provisioned by the private sector. Mobility businesses, especially the largest tech-based providers, step in where government-provisioned services struggle to keep up, offering seamless transportation for their customers. Seeing mobility data’s utility in managing the pandemic, individuals are increasingly open to sharing information with the private sector; mobility technology advances quickly.
· Sunrise in the east: The East Asian model’s perceived success extends from managing the pandemic to mobility. China, Singapore, Japan, and others become the leading hubs for mobility innovation and R&D, overshadowing Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. The physical and digital value chains for electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and other technologies consolidate in the East, to the detriment of European and North American businesses. Active mobility management to address systemwide challenges around congestion and air quality becomes the norm, enabled by robust government data collection and analytics.
· Lone wolves: National, regional, and local governments accrue greater authority as they lead efforts to combat the coronavirus. Cities force data sharing and actively regulate mobility via top-down monitoring and control (for example, pricing), first as a way to control Covid-19 and then as a way to meet other, systemwide goals. Data privacy and cybersecurity give way to increased government oversight.
In the midst of the uncertainty, there are also some trends that we expect will take hold and persist, irrespective of which scenario plays out, specifically:
· Trip substitution via digitization. Telework, telemedicine, and e-learning are likely to become permanent fixtures for some portion of the population, reducing their need to access mobility. The magnitude of these shifts, and whether it creates a material change in overall demand (for example, miles traveled or mode choice), will depend largely on how long the pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders persist.
Companies and mobility operators should assess their customer base and gauge the potential long-term impact on travel patterns. What proportion are likely to be able to shift to a permanent work-from-home arrangement? Do you rely on commuting or leisure travel? In-depth consumer data, including surveys and demographics, should be used to help create a detailed picture, as trends are likely to be highly idiosyncratic.
· A new focus on—and expanded definition of—safety. As people begin to travel again, a “safe” trip will likely also mean one that is sanitary and hygienic. We can expect a wide range of measures to be deployed where people gather to travel together.
Every organization should undertake a comprehensive assessment of its end-to-end operations and interactions with customers through the lens of health and sanitation. Deploying leading class measures—and communicating them effectively to users and the public—is likely to become the price of admission for doing business in a post Covid-19 world. That’s likely to be doubly true for shared mobility (ride-hailing, on-demand shuttles, bikeshare, shared e-scooters) and mass transit.
· Growing reliance on e-commerce and home delivery. The perceived health risks of venturing into crowded stores coupled with stay-at-home orders is accelerating the rapid shift toward online retail and home delivery. We will likely see increased attention to, and innovation around, supply chain optimization, long-haul trucking, and last-mile freight movement, with expanded testing and deployment of automated delivery via robots and drones, as well as remote operation and autonomous drive for long-haul trucking.
Organizations should explore ways to capitalize on e-commerce and home delivery. Online retail and last-mile fulfillments were already growing rapidly pre Covid-19, and the pandemic will likely accelerate the trend. Companies across the mobility spectrum should consider how they can best move into the space.
· A reconfigured mobility landscape. Few if any across the transportation ecosystem will survive these crises unscathed. Some players will exit, new entrants may rise, partnerships will be forged, and investments will ebb, flow, and be reallocated. New consumer preferences, new use cases, and new business models are likely to emerge. Mobility, already a highly dynamic space, looks set to be even more fluid over the coming months.
Take stock of your current ecosystem partners and assess what new collaborations might be needed. Develop a robust and active market, competitor, and ecosystem sensing capability to inform the effort. Public-private engagement and cooperation will likely feature prominently in any mobility future, so actively building those relationships now could pay dividends.
Beyond these “no regret” considerations, each scenario has room for a wide spectrum of outcomes, and our collective mobility future hinges critically on the decisions made by myriad stakeholders—including readers like you—over the coming months. The fundamental choice, which could manifest in a thousand variations across the mobility ecosystem, is simple: Do they fall back on old ways, abandoning new modes and services and focusing on legacy businesses or departing the mobility landscape altogether? Or do they maintain and even redouble efforts to forge new approaches that propel us to a reimagined mobility system? The latter path takes courage, conviction, and, yes, a greater tolerance for risk, and may be beyond the wherewithal of many. As we have written about extensively, this future is dependent upon a new ecosystem emerging, where roles shift, as do the sources of value creation. Like all crises, this one offers opportunities to conceive of different ways to establish success in a mobility landscape undergoing significant change.