One year ago, uncertainty spread all over the world, forced lockdowns, a flood of unsettling COVID-19 news, infection curves were rising, and the pandemic spread all over the globe, spreading the fear and reducing mobility in turn. This last year mobility has been one of the most impacted areas by this global crisis, with serious concerns raising, such as:
- What will happen with plummeted use of public transport, and the worrying trend of consumers back to private cars?
- Will shared mobility keep growing, or it will stall?
- What are the challenges for urban mobility as we realise what it takes to adapt to the “new normal”?
In this context, the CommINSAFE project –standing for CommutINg with ShAred mobility covid-FrEe- was one of the eleven selected COVID19 projects of the EIT Urban Mobility Covid-19 call of 2020. The project has now come to an end after 6 months, and the results are really promising.
The challenge addressed focused on facing a severe decrease in the use of public transport, with concerns as to the ability to keep physical distance and ride safely, while at the same time private car usage remains high.
The team identified that dependency on private vehicles for reaching industrial zones or business parks located in an interurban area is the root of many problems for the companies:
- Office space: related to the need to use (or we should rather say waste) a huge area for parking space in their headquarters that could be better used for other purposes.
- Talent retention: related to the challenge to attract and retain talent due to the problems for commuting, where time spent on road congestion and the cost of car use are real stoppers for employees.
They realised they need to react quickly to the spotted needs, and within a very short time, organise and deploy the corporate mobility service described just before the arrival of the second COVID-19 wave.
The solution developed, and piloted: a corporate, on-demand mobility service based on a technological platform that allows employees working at different companies based in the same business area to book their virtual seat in the more convenient pick-up point and timetable for their daily journey to their workplace.
CommINSAFE’s proposal combines the efficiency and flexibility of an on-demand mobility service, which was tailored to corporate mobility requirements, in close cooperation with a few companies that helped us recruit users among their employees. The deployed service has great potential for scaling, as commuter trips account for more than 60% of the overall mobility in metropolitan areas such as Greater Barcelona. These are its main components and features:
- On-demand: the Ne-Mi application for providing and managing a flexible transport service which includes virtual pick-up points in tailored and flexible routes that connect urban areas (where employees live) with the workplace of each employee.
- Corporate: the design of the service is adapted to companies that are established in areas that are underserved by the public transport system, such as suburban areas or business parks located away from the city centre, with the particularity that it is tailored to be used by several different companies in the same area, as it is possible to design routes with several stops to drop-off passengers.
- COVID-free: to make the service even more convenient, especially in the context of the pandemic, the service also includes a disinfection system based on modules that diffuse ultraviolet lamps with light at a 222 nm wavelength, which although germicidal is totally harmless to humans. Being harmless, this light can be used while travellers are inside the vehicle.
The pilot test covered the itinerary connecting Barcelona city centre with “Can Sant Joan” business park located in the city of Sant Cugat del Vallès. With more than 12,000 employees who work in the headquarters of international companies, Can Sant Joan is the largest business park in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, and so it generates a large number of daily journeys, even though current mobility restrictions and teleworking recommendations have significantly reduced mobility. The pilot targeted commuters from Barcelona city centre residential areas who work in one of the several companies located in the business park, and lasted for 2 months under real-world operating conditions.
The corporate on-demand bus service connecting Barcelona and Sant Cugat del Vallès has raised the interest of more than 10 companies and a total number of 96 users, most of which were previously commuting using their private vehicle.
Promising results encourage the CommINSAFE team to scale the on-demand corporate mobility solution:
- Round-trip: the on-demand service app piloted revealed that users generally do not use the commuting service for round-trips, which is a lesson learned and aspect to consider for a future service design and implementation in other locations.
- CO2 emission savings: comparing this service to a regular bus line and considering that the previous means of transport used by employees was mainly private cars, we have estimated that the piloted service has saved 158Tn of CO2, proving to be a sustainable alternative to private mobility with great potential to contribute to the Green Deal objectives, when scaled.
- High user acceptance: the level of satisfaction from the users was revealed through excellent scores in all the assessed attributes, as shown in the following figure:
- Companies’ feedback: the decision-makers of companies involved in the pilot have stated that they are very interested in continuing the service operation after the project lifetime, as it is an important asset to retain talent while improving the accessibility of their employees to their workplace. In addition, the average willingness to pay for this service by companies is around 2€ per journey and per employee. This is an interesting aspect in order to develop the go-to-market strategy after the project lifetime.
- Disinfection systems: the bacteriological tests performed before and after UVC disinfection showed a reduction of more than 97% in the Staphylococcus aureus strain on the contact points for continuous disinfection.
“Very good alternative, above all, because it took much less time to get to the workplace, and due to the comfort of not having to make several transfers in public transport”
“I really liked the bus service, it is very comfortable, fast and the booking application is easy to use”
CommINSAFE’s team expects that on-demand mobility services will play a key role in future mobility, and effective solutions developed at corporate level can become very relevant.