As the novel coronavirus continues to impact daily life throughout the world, people are adapting many aspects of their lifestyles. This period has put new technologies to the test whilst reinstating the importance of life’s simple pleasures. Society is undergoing a revolutionary change in the way we live and travel, subsequently calling for new initiatives that better support our communities.
The coronavirus is disrupting people’s daily life at every angle. The societal response to the pandemic has been influenced by a combination of governmental intervention and a social media frenzy. The priorities for all countries include ensuring access to healthcare, maintaining the availability of essential supplies, and managing the economic fall-out, all of which have required quick decision-making and policy implementation. In the background, however, this unique era has allowed for people to acknowledge the practicality of different technologies as well as the potential to maintain one’s quality of life whilst living more sustainably. In compelling tweets, Greta Thunberg, stated that “there is a lot of talk about returning to ‘normal’ after the COVID-19 outbreak. But normal was a crisis. In crises, we change our behaviour and adapt to the new circumstances for the greater good of the society.”
One of the many recent revelations is the effectiveness of virtual meetings. Whilst their initial encouragement was largely correlated with work from home measures, improved effectiveness to work productively remotely will likely encourage managers to offer their teams WFH opportunities on a more regular basis. Similarly, international business trips will continue to be less desired than before, a round trip from Europe to New York expenses 2 to 3 tonnes of C02 to the environment per person. Then there is the sheer cost, the average business trip costs £1043 and leads to 6.9 hours in lost productivity as well as potential damage to familial relationships at home leading to further implications for employee wellbeing. Similarly, such services have offered families and friends a platform to maintain and reignite relations, including with the elderly, who have been self-isolating for the longest. This seismic cultural shift towards virtual meetings may help explain why the cloud conferencing company, Zoom, now has a 50% higher market valuation than all of the American airlines combined. Daily users have grown from 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million this March. (For the record, Zoom is unfortunately not the parent company of Blue Zoom.)
Every cloud has a silver lining, and if we were to discuss the few positives of this troubling period, it must be mentioned that many have a greater appreciation of accessible hobbies and activities, such as cycling around the local area, doing a home-workout or taking part in a virtual pub quiz. Stronger friendships and family bonds may have formed, new habits have emerged, communities have been coalesced in their collective response to the pandemic, and many can now claim to have ‘completed’ Netflix on their CV.
Transport industries have already seen tangible changes. Bike companies have been considered by the British government as 'essential' to help front line staff commute thus been allowed to stay open. Whilst 50% of people in major European cities commute use public transport, reports indicate that users of buses and tubes are exposed to a 6x higher risk of contracting an acute respiratory disease due to the high concentration of people in small and often poorly ventilated tubes [Citylab 2017]. According to Citymapper mobility index, Barcelona’s public transport is now operating at 3% of its capacity, while New York is operating at 8%. Paris is at 5%, while London is at 23%. Following various national government's requests to avoid public transport, we have seen a widespread shift of demographics; masses of people who would not traditionally cycle or scoot have started opting for these healthy alternatives to driving and public transport. Micromobility transport options such as electric scooters and bikes have turned into critical solutions to help people travel during the outbreak. Many retailers have reported a surge in traffic of over 30% to their websites. The bike-sharing company, ‘Citi Bike’, reported a growth in usage with more than half a million bike trips between 1st March and 11th March – 67% rise compared to the same period last year.
The government has called upon many bike and scooter-sharing companies and retailers around the world to provide mobility solutions to where they are needed most. Blue Zoom is delivering fleets of bikes for free to various UK hospitals outside of the major city centres to offer frontline workers, primarily NHS staff, a safer, healthier alternative to public transport travelling to and from home and in between local hospitals. Many existing bike and e-scooter fleet sharing schemes are naturally found in the densest areas inside major city centres such as London and Edinburgh. However, Blue Zoom’s mission has always been to provide transport solutions to clients not necessarily in major cities but in towns where taking a public bus may still only be the only option of transport. Particularly during the outbreak - providing a transport alternative that allows for social distancing is important. Plus, cycling provides a physical health and morale boost that comes from exercising.
Cities such as New York, have already closed down main roads to create more space for cyclists, and micro-mobility users, to support the sudden shift to small individual transport modes on their streets. Bogotá, Columbia’s capital, quickly added 76 kilometers of cycle lanes to accommodate for more riders and allow for social distancing. Similarly, in London, we noticed greater utilisation of cycle lane infrastructure, demonstrating a return on authorities’ ongoing investment to create healthy streets. London’s Department for Transport has already implied that temporary cycling measures could be made permanent thanks to pressure from a group of nearly 50 academics and experts on public health and transport. They wrote a recent open letter to the British government, urging ministers to encourage walking and cycling, noting their vital importance in the wider public health issue of combating inactivity.
Ultimately, there are, at least a handful of lessons that society, businesses, and governments can draw from this pandemic. Collectively, we have become more aware of the need to help our neighbours and cast aside our differences to allow for the nation to unite behind the health service and other essential workforces such as supply chain facilities. Similarly, organisations have recognised alternative solutions to maintain effective company cultures that take into account employees and customer physical and mental wellbeing. Blue Zoom is continuing to implement and manage bike and e-scooter fleet solutions for organisations that want to implement initiatives that contribute to a happier, healthier workforce and customer base. For large corporates, providing employees access to bikes as an organisational perk helps to boost morale which drives productivity and satisfaction in their job roles. Meanwhile, for Blue Zoom’s property developer or hotel clients, providing more attractive amenities such as ‘on demand’ availability for e-bikes or e-scooters strengthens their residents’ or guests' experience as well as attracting new, eco-conscious customers. Following everyone's renewed appreciation for the outdoors these past few weeks we are confident that we will see a continuation for masses of people opting for healthier modes of travel than public transport such as cycling, following the end of the pandemic. This new reality has called for us to rethink how we can live more sustainably, conveniently and efficiently. Communities and families have united in the fight against the virus, but this resilience, seen across the globe, will outlive COVID-19. Whether it’s a global pandemic, severe storms, poor air quality, or other repercussions of climate change, nations will continue to overcome unprecedented disruptions using innovative technologies combined with life’s simple pleasures to form society’s resilience plan.