As one of my friends wrote in his Facebook Story this week: “The best thing about WFH, no commute!”
While it feels like the shackles of office life have now been lifted because of the coronavirus, it’s only a momentary relief. Commutes are all out of whack mostly because of new “work from home” policies that are in full effect, keeping people away from the office in the U.S., China, South Korea, Italy, and other hard-struck places. In just a short span of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly changed how we get around.
This new way of working, socializing, and even exercising means people are increasingly abandoning their usual train or bus ride to work or the gym. The same goes for the carpool option in the Uber and Lyft rideshare apps. Just look at the impact on air travel: We’ve all seen airlines struggling as the coronavirus spreads and restrictions keep people away from flights.
Global Health Advisory: Reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19. Many areas worldwide are now taking actions including quarantines and border restrictions. Even areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice. http://ow.ly/j9e130qpaHV
Even train travel has been affected, with Amtrak reporting three suspended train routes between New York and Washington, D.C. — normally a bustling and packed travel corridor. Other public transit systems, like BART in the San Francisco Bay Area, are reporting a ridership decline as of last week. Tuesday’s trains were 30 percent emptier. BART said this amounts to nearly $600,000 in losses from fares each day. Damn.
New York City’s MTA system was still seeing heavy usage this week, but, anecdotally, riders say trains have seemed emptier than usual. Official ridership numbers are supposed to be released next week. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s bus and metro system, known as Muni, reported “steady” numbers earlier in March, though declines in ridership are anticipated as infection rates ramp up.
It’s not just public transit that’s feeling the coronavirus’ effect. Ride-sharing apps also look different these days.
As fewer people move around for work and fun, the gig economy is shifting to a focus on delivery for groceries and food, and major companies like Uber are taking note. An Australian colleague recently sent over a highly discounted Uber offer for 40 percent off her next three rides, which felt like a plea to use the service. Others in America have shared price reductions for carpool rides on the apps, like this $12 UberX ride alongside a $3 Uber Pool.
We’ve been recommending to drivers who are worried about coronavirus to sign up with Instacart for now but also Postmates and DoorDash for the second wave if things get really bad and Rideshare business slows and people start ordering in more. https://twitter.com/kateclarktweets/status/1235701132258754560 …Kate Clark✔@KateClarkTweetsInstacart says its sales have jumped 10x overall and as high as 20x in California and Washington: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-instacart/instacart-accelerates-launch-of-grocery-drop-off-service-amid-coronavirus-fears-idUSKBN20S2LE …
Gridwise, a ride-share analytics tool for drivers, sent over findings from an email survey about coronavirus. Of 870 American drivers surveyed last week, Gridwise found an 8-percent drop in rides to airports, with an almost 18-percent drop to Los Angeles International Airport. Almost 30 percent of drivers said they were avoiding the airport, while 27 percent said they’ve stopped or dramatically reduced how much they’re driving. And, unsurprisingly, more than 80 percent say they’re concerned about coronavirus.
On the flip side, 29 percent of 760 American ride-share riders surveyed at the end of last week said they were working from home. A full 40 percent said they’re avoiding taking an Uber Pool, which is the shared, carpool option on the ride-hailing app.
This all adds up. Kyte, a San Francisco-based rental app that drops the car off at your location, has seen more people preferring to get around in their own car. Bookings have increased 50 percent this month compared to January. As a rental company, most of its business comes on the weekend, but now it’s seeing 1.6 times the number of weekday bookings. For the next two weeks, some car types are even sold out.
Much like how airports have now begun to resemble ghost towns, freeways and train lines are, sadly, starting to give a new definition to the “open road.”