Saving MaaS Post Pandemic

Disgust. It’s an instinct embedded in our genes since the Paleolithic Age, designed to keep us healthy by making us instinctively avoid contagion.

In the age of this pandemic, very real concerns about shared transportation have already crippled public transit agencies. If and when the pandemic comes under control, that disgust may linger. Mobility-as-a-Service providers need to do more than disinfect to ease consumers’ fears in order to save MaaS as a viable option.

The pandemic has been deadly for almost all forms of transport. In the US, EU and China, use of almost all shared modes of transportation, including public transport, ride hailing, taxis, scooter sharing, were down by 60% or more, according to BCG. Bike sharing was up by 21% or more in the US and China; down in the EU.

In August, Deloitte’s Global State of the Consumer Tracker, which monitors consumer sentiment during the course of the pandemic, found that 57% of respondents planned to limit the use of public transportation over the next three months, while 49% planned to limit ride-hailing usage. Those numbers are even higher in the US, with 62% cutting back on public transportation and 58% curtailing ride-hailing use.

RBC Capital reports Uber’s August global mobility bookings were down 50% year-over-year. Lyft saw a 53% decrease. Germs in any shared vehicle could be cause for alarm. Insurance lead provider NetQuote tested nine vehicles including taxis, cars used for ride hailing, and rental cars. The ride-hailing vehicles had three times the amount of bacteria that rental cars harbored, while taxis contained only a fraction of a percentage point of bacteria versus ride-hailing vehicles. In fact, ride-hailing vehicles and rental cars had more bacteria than toilet seats. However, it’s important to note, the study looked at bacteria, not viruses; and the bacteria found are not necessarily harmful. Experts think rigorous sanitation can make MaaS vehicles safe. Convincing the public is another story.

The new cleaning game

Like many MaaS providers, Spin has upped the cleaning of its shared scooters, both in the wild and at the warehouse. Now, every time a scooter returns to a warehouse, the upper mast and handlebars are disinfected.

All employees are required to wear gloves whenever they are handling scooters and surfaces in the warehouse and on equipment out in the field are cleaned daily with disinfectant. It’s been an evolving process, says Kyle Rowe, global head of government partnerships. With ridership almost nonexistent, Spin worked with a few cities to provide free transportation for essential workers. At first, when authorities weren’t clear on how much of a danger surface transmission was, Spin deployed a monthly rental service in some cities to eliminate concerns about sharing.

Companies can only do so much. With single-person MaaS vehicles like scooters and bikes, riders need to pitch in. Spin encourages riders to disinfect scooter handlebars before and after taking a ride, as well as use hand sanitizer or wash hands before and after.

For new users and users in a new region, this message is a part of the in-app information they’re supposed to review and accept before unlocking the first ride. Those who’ve been regular users may be left relying on their own common sense. (Spin is looking into adding an antimicrobial surface to its handlebars.)

Peer-to-peer car-sharing service Turo requires hosts to provide clean, disinfected vehicles. Guests are encouraged to contact the host via trip messaging prior to the trip to ask about their cleaning routine and the steps they take to disinfect their vehicle. The company provides hosts with training on advanced cleaning and disinfection practices. In May, it partnered with Spiffy to offer hosts disinfectant services and products at reduced cost.

New opportunities in disinfection

Spiffy was in the perfect place to respond to the pandemic. It already offered on-site cleaning and detailing services to fleets and individuals, along with maintenance services. When the pandemic slashed business, it began researching CDC- and EPA-approved disinfection and now provides decontamination and disinfection. In June, it launched an online store for DIY products.

Pest control service Rentokil is another pivoting company. It now provides vehicle disinfectant services to operators of public transportation and fleets. Certified specialists use a combination of liquid dispersal for hard services and surface wipes for some materials and areas.

Octo Telematics used its deep expertise in OBD devices to launch PurePlace. Octo began working on the system in March, while Italy was in the throes of its first wave, and delivered the product in June, according to CMO Edwin Colella. The system is made up of a NASA-patented purification device and Octo’s SmartDiag or EasyPro OBD device. It includes a mobile app, APIs to integrate with other apps, and a web application that can be used by fleet managers.

The purification cycle, using photocatalytic oxidation, starts and ends automatically, based on the duration of trips. Because it’s non-toxic, passengers and drivers can remain in the vehicle during the cycle. “Taxis and ride hailing are among of the most relevant needs,” Colella says. “If you are renting a vehicle, you want to reassure your customers the vehicle is sanitized and not with a chemical or another aggressive technology but a technology that allows passengers to be in the vehicle.”

Driving home the message

A vehicle may be clean, but how can you tell? Simply providing a bottle of hand sanitizer can signify a clean car. IHS Markit found that 80% of consumers expect their rideshare vehicles to have some sort of disinfecting supplies going forward but that’s just the beginning. “Even if the customer doesn’t see the actual service, having a certificate, a photo or video on the website or social media of the company … helps earn the trust of the passengers,” says John Myers, Rentokil president and CEO.

Octo’s system comes with QR code stickers to place in a rear window. Potential riders can point their phones at the code to open a web browser that shows the sanitization status of that specific vehicle. That same information is available within apps provided by Octo or the MaaS provider.

Signage or verbal messaging aren’t as effective as physical experience, says Spike Lee, associate professor of psychology and marketing at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. “Language alone won’t cut it,” Lee says. “When people process language, they have to mentally translate language into experience. If you can directly provide a clean experience, you are doing the mental translation for them.”

Lee thinks odor is the most effective experiential proxy for clean. When that’s not possible, providing audio and imagery literally paints the picture. He suggests MaaS companies show videos of the cleaning process or before-and-after photos. “When people see that imagery, they can almost smell it,” he says. Finally, offering hard data, for example, providing measurements of the amount of virus or microbes in the air before and after cleaning, reassures consumers, Lee says.

Spiffy experimented with odors to find the “cleanest” smell, according to CEO Scot Wingo. “Pre-COVID-19, people would complain about disinfectant smells,” Wingo says. “Now they like it.” The company landed on a lemony fragrance but applies it with a light hand. “There’s a balance between not bothering people and giving them confidence the vehicle has been treated,” Wingo adds. “We need to find different ways to keep our lives as normal as possible,” says Octo’s Colella. “These kinds of technologies allow you to follow a normal approach to your habits and mobility needs.”

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