The Coronacceleration: The transition from mass to personal transport and travel

This post was also published on LinkedIn Pulse. 

A series on the latent trends that have been accelerated by the Coronavirus

After the widespread fear of a pandemic, people are not going to be inclined to get into a crowded train or other mass transit, and will orient towards more personalized transportation whenever possible.

In just the past few years, consumers had already flocked to personalized transportation. Uber and Lyft quickly infiltrated the public consciousness as on demand taxi service. Uber Pool and Lyft Line were introduced shortly afterwards which enabled users to form dynamic carpools, beginning to replace public transportation for a set of more wealthy riders. Lately, on-demand electric bikes and scooter rentals have democratized on-demand, highly personalized transportation.

Adding bike lanes for personal electric vehicles and dedicated lanes for carpools is a much cheaper and flexible alternative to restructuring roads or building tunnels to accommodate new or upgraded light rail. The cost of light rail and subways has grown significantly, as well as the cost of maintenance and paying for municipal staff to operate the systems. Light rail projects take years of planning and development, whilst areas of cities are constantly ebbing and flowing. Bike lanes and dedicated lanes are also much more organic to a city’s constantly changing needs.

Self-driving vehicles in cities are increasingly unlikely anytime soon. However, adding very well marked and isolated lanes of traffic make relatively simple Level 3 autonomous vehicles cheap and safe to deploy within and around a city. The trend towards electrified vehicles will definitely accelerate now that everyone has experienced life without vehicle pollution.

Once travel starts up again, the trend towards AirBnB and smaller boutique hotels will accelerate versus large hotels with a lot of people coming and going and many common areas. AirBnB is introducing sterilization standards which will also increase traveller comfort relative to crowded facilities.

Air travel will take quite a while to come back, but there will be a preference for smaller jet services like JSX flying from private terminals rather than large jets from major airports. Travelling internationally will have quite a few barriers and inconveniences such as testing on departure and on arrival.

New technology is on the verge of deployment. Large, personal drones that function as air taxis are already being tested in the UAE. The ability to take off and land pretty much anywhere will make every suburban house the equivalent of high value property that is right next to a rail station. Hyperloops with their pod-based carriers are still in the planning stages in various areas and also have the potential to replace mass transit projects like California’s failed high speed rail project.

High spending SF-based startups like AirBnB and Uber will need to adjust their spend to the traditional economics of travel apps and websites. There’s no reason for AirBnB’s tech costs to be more than HomeAway’s tech costs. For example, Uber could simply switch to using the Careem app they just acquired and do a deal with Google Maps, rather than continuing to invest in thousands of engineers.

The economics of personalized travel were already approaching those of mass transit, and Coronavirus has created a tipping point towards the personalized trend.