Paris (AFP)

Car-sharing, car-sharing, bicycles and self-service scooters ... Is the idea of ​​sharing mobility objects dead with coronavirus? The risk is real if the fear of infection settles in by touching contaminated surfaces or by breathing the same air as a stranger.

The American automobile giant General Motors (GM) has just announced that it is throwing in the towel in carsharing, by closing Maven, a service launched four years ago. His suspension during the epidemic was fatal.

The offers of cars available on demand, like the old Autolib system in Paris, have however exploded in recent years in large cities, driven by the idea of ​​more economical mobility, thanks to payment by l 'use, and more ecological because reducing the number of vehicles.

In late March, the American company Bird, a pioneer in self-service electric scooters, dismissed 30% of its employees because of the crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The traffic figures for all modes of transport are collapsing, but what has fallen first are the offers of new mobilities because they have the inherent defect of being rather exposed from a point of view of the contamination ", emphasizes Joël Hazan, expert from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Admittedly the crisis represents in the immediate future a cataclysm for all the modes of transport, since the displacements of the populations were reduced to almost zero in the confined regions. But when restarting, not everyone will rise in the same way.

For Hazan, the urban mobility sector which was "one of the most dynamic in the world in the creation of start-ups will experience a funding crisis" at the end of which "only the strongest will remain". However, according to him, many business models are still "stammering and hesitant".

"Car pooling is fully subsidized for very disappointing results. Before the crisis, it was already a bottomless effort for the public authorities," he notes.

Now, we need to reassure customers who fear being infected by the virus by touching the steering wheel and the gear lever operated by a previous user, which generates additional costs.

- The bike against the car -

Since the beginning of the epidemic, "our vehicles are regularly disinfected by a specialized company", explains Olivier Reppert, the boss of Share Now, carpooling service of the German giants BMW and Daimler. "Our medium and long term objectives remain intact," he said, saying he was convinced of a strong recovery after the crisis. But Share Now had announced in late 2019 its withdrawal from North America and a reduction in sails in Europe.

In new forms of mobility, there are very different realities, argues Paulin Dementhon, general manager for Europe of Getaround, a vehicle rental platform between individuals. "The problem is public transport. A TGV train, a metro, a bus is scary", so the crisis "will promote everything that is individual transport," he said.

However, if almost everyone can afford to invest in their own bike or scooter to avoid sharing, not everyone can afford to buy a car, he said.

Nicolas Brusson, managing director of BlaBlaCar, world leader in carpooling, shares this opinion. "If we position ourselves in 12 or 24 months, there will be a shift towards cheaper transport" because of the economic crisis and "this should rather benefit low cost players," he said. In the meantime, the group, whose turnover has fallen to zero, is back.

"The strength of a transport network like BlaBlaCar is that we have no fixed costs", since the platform puts customers in touch with motorists or buses operated by suppliers. "Since we were well capitalized, a shutdown of several months does not endanger the company from a financial point of view," says Mr. Brusson.

"The real risk is losing the fight against the private car," said Mr. Hazan, for whom "the bicycle is the most suitable mode of transport" in town, because "it is ecological and private" but also inexpensive.

© 2020 AFP