Electric Vehicles and Shared Mobility in the Post-pandemic Age

August 14th, 2020 | by Dermot Hikisch, Launch Architect | Posted in: Insight on Things

EVs and Mobility

COVID-19 Taskforce interview with Movmi

As the pandemic continues to disrupt business around the world, the electrification of transportation and shared mobility gains momentum. Dermot Hikisch, Launch Architect at Ridecell joined James Carter, Principal Consultant at Vision Mobility in a webinar hosted by Venkatesh Gopal, Head of Business Development and Partnerships at Movmi to discuss electric shared mobility during COVID-19.­­­

The discussion centered around how mobility has been affected by the pandemic, the advancements in electric vehicle charging technology, the benefits of EV travel, and what we should expect to see from the EV industry throughout the rest of 2020 and beyond. Here is an excerpt from the interview with Dermot.

1) How has the pandemic affected the electrification of transportation— particularly in shared mobility?

In the short-term, we’re not seeing too much of an effect. At least not yet. Deploying electric vehicle infrastructure is a fairly long process involving planning, permitting, etc. Projects already in the pipeline are continuing to move forward to completion.

Much like other areas of the construction industry, the majority of building work has continued. There’s the need for it; as well as the ability for people to work on the projects while safely social distancing.

Deployment wise, most electrified shared mobility offerings—like GIG Car Share in Sacramento and Zity in Madrid and Paris—won’t open a city until the EV charging infrastructure is in place. The EV charging resources were already at a minimum viable threshold prior to launching in these cities.

Zity car share also doubled down in Paris last month with a 500 EV fleet of Renault Zoes. Their launch timing was slightly delayed during the peak of the pandemic in France, but this gave them the opportunity to open with a better and safer product offering.

On the larger infrastructure side, we’re seeing a rapid increase in project completions from transportation departments during this down period. Zero to a few cars on the road for an extended period of time has really helped transportation departments get ahead of schedule on a number of their roadway projects—which, in the short and medium-term, helps both shared mobility and personal vehicle usage.

2) What about shared charging infrastructure—although all public chargers are shared? How does that get affected? Do we see contactless, pro-distancing tech emerging?

Certainly, there is more visual guidance showing up at public charging stations, encouraging users to keep their distance and wash/sanitize their hands regularly. The majority of charging stations available are L2s so, even on a busy day, the charge handle may only be touched once every couple of hours. Given the half-life of COVID-19, this reduces the risk of exposure. Though I’d still encourage everyone to sanitize their hands after touching a charger handle, much like touching anything else out in public (door handle, stair railing, ATM keypad, etc.).

To put the risk of exposure in context, though, the standard gas station pump handle is 11,000 times dirtier than the household toilet. Think about it. Different people are touching the gas handle every 5 to 10 minutes. They’re gripping onto the handle for the duration of the fill-up, which could be minutes if they’re filling up an SUV. The longer someone holds onto a surface, the more likely they are to spread (and contract) a virus. How many people out there would feel comfortable holding onto the door handle at their local grocery store for 60+ seconds?

DC fast charging gets closer to the high-user transaction experience of a gas station. But even today’s top commercial one’s service, at best, one user every 30 to 60 minutes per charge handle. A gas pump handle is meeting upwards of 100 strangers per day.

Even at DC fast charge locations, the potential number of different users is still a small fraction of gas station numbers. These EV users are also supplementing their vehicle charging at home, so fewer of them are visiting a public charging station. And, when they do, public charging is now typically done via an app or key fob, eliminating the other high-transmission risk endeavor of putting one’s credit card into the machine and punching in your passcode.

CBC recently reported that WHO, and a large body of scientists, are suggesting we may be overly cautious regarding the risk of getting the virus from surfaces. According to the report, there isn’t a confirmed case of transmission via surfaces. Cases that can be tied back to their source have been attributed to human-to-human contact and airborne transmission.

Contactless tech could be helpful, but the consideration for launching it should be as much for user convenience as it is for safety. If someone today is designing contactless technology for EV charging as a response to the pandemic, they better move quickly. Hopefully, we’ll have a vaccine available to the general public in 2021.

E-scooter companies like Bolt and Wheels are already operating with NanoSeptic handlebars, which are supposed to significantly reduce the risk of spreading viruses like COVID-19. These precautions appear to help boost customer confidence.

Even with safeguards like antiviral handles, sanitizer attached to shared mobility vehicles, and aggressive cleaning/disinfecting cycles, I still put on a pair of gloves and sanitized my hands after taking my last local Jump bike and GIG Car Share trip.

3) There’s a lot riding on curbside charging being available for the general public, which might be an incentive to electrify shared mobility, similar to parking meters. Does the pandemic make matters worse?

Is there a lot riding on curbside charging? I’m personally for it with the proper conditions set.

From a city perspective, the availability of curbside charging is great as long as it covers the cost of the parking meter it’s replacing. My take is parking meter space tends to be premium locations and is available to all kinds of users. Why not focus on adding public curbside charging within half a block or a full block of these areas? Make a new income stream for the city without disrupting their current set-up.

Curbside charging in popular areas has also posed some challenges. For instance, it’s not uncommon for a non-EV to park in the curbside charging spot, often pulling that location offline for charging availability for several hours.

Furthermore, curbside EV charging is more expensive than setting up charging in a private (or city) parking lot. Adding in electrical components at the curbside can be costly. Dealing with a steady amount of curbside change can lead to additional cost considerations as well. Living in San Francisco, many of our public roads are pulled apart on a 12-month cycle to make room for additional infrastructure development.

Many round-trip car share operators will certainly prefer the availability of curbside charging for their fleet. Studies have shown customers prefer curbside availability versus having to go to a garage or the like. However, the world of EV is changing quickly.

With DC fast charge capabilities coming online, soon customers and shared mobility fleet techs will have access to charging stations that provide a full-level charge in less than 20 or 30 minutes rather than several hours.

This has the potential to break through the convenience barrier and really move EVs into the realm of today’s standard consumers. Consumers whose expectations won’t be that there are charging stations located on every major curbside.

With the pandemic, bike infrastructure planning and development is booming. So curbside charging projects now also have to deal with the competing need for some of the same space. At the macro level, though, the more bike lanes, the more people moving to car-free lifestyles, the better for shared mobility—including car sharing.

4) What has the COVID-19 pandemic done to elevate/undermine the electrification of shared mobility? What changes have you seen, and do you expect to take shape going forward?

I think the duration of the pandemic has been helpful in shaking out the noise. Far-reaching ideas from organizations not fully invested in the transition to electric mobility have been delayed or shut down completely.

Organizations already with a long view on electrified mobility have continued down that path. VW is moving ahead with another full conversion of one of their manufacturing facilities to EV-only. The UK, thanks to continued pro-EV purchase incentives has seen a 21.5 percent increase in year-over-year EV sales during the pandemic while internal combustion engine vehicles have fallen 90 percent over that same time period.

The crash in the price of oil has been significant, to say the least. Ultimately, it should have a larger effect on EV sales but so little of the pure oil price decrease is actually passed onto the consumer.

Some mobility operators may be holding onto their traditional fleets a little longer while fuel costs are low. Part of this strategy is to squeeze more time out of their existing fleet while they can now, while EV model prices, options, and range, get better and better.

Even as the pandemic creates more and more uncertainty across industries, EVs and shared mobility continue to enjoy greater market share. Based on these insights it’s no small wonder why. Both represent great progress toward the future of mobility—and for all the damage the pandemic has done, it has sped up advancements in technology and innovation across the board.   

Author: Dermot Hikisch, Launch Architect, Ridecell



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