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Opinions of Monday, 26 October 2020

Columnist: Nonso Onwuzulike

An Op-Ed: 'The future of mobility in Ghana in a post-coronavirus world'

Nonso Onwuzulike, is the Ghana Country Manager for Bolt, a ride-hailing platform. Nonso Onwuzulike, is the Ghana Country Manager for Bolt, a ride-hailing platform.

COVID-19, beyond its tragic trail of destruction in the world, presents opportunities for the transportation industry as it does for the pharmaceutical, technology and consumer industries.

In Ghana, like many countries across the globe, COVID -19 has brought the most drastic instabilities to the economy more than anything the country has ever seen and the world of mobility has not been spared.

The dire situation has been exacerbated by the need for social distance and the reluctance on the part of citizens to commute in public transport for fear of being infected.

However, beyond the devastation to life and property, will most players in the transport sector see this crisis as a turning point to revolutionize mobility as we know it in Ghana or stick to the status quo? At Bolt, we think the former should be the case.

Like the proverbial phoenix, the transport sector must rise from the COVID- 19 ruin with new and innovative solutions to, not only bolster the mobility ecosystem but the economy as a whole.

While the pandemic has changed the world including the ways of working, with many companies offering work-from-home options, not every sector could do the same. People and businesses will now be looking for a sustainable and safe mode of transport. Herein lies our call-to-action as industry players.

But how do we identify and tap into the inherent opportunities that have conflictingly been brought by this crisis?

Technology Boost

Technology has come in handy during this crisis, and from e-commerce, communications to business operations, technology has been the champion of the world.

Although the momentum garnered by innovators prior to COVID -19 to roll out cutting-edge technologies to drive change in the world was abruptly disrupted, we are gradually recovering from the halt.

Although in the short-term COVID -19 has caused delays in our quest to ride on the back of technology for development, in the longer term this crisis presents us a good opportunity to develop technology solutions that support micro-mobility and physical distancing solutions.

Customer demand for such solutions, without a doubt, could grow once the initial crisis subsides. Thus in a post-COVID-19 Ghana, we can expect more technology-driven solutions in the daily lives of citizens including the transport sector.

The Gradual Shift

Changes in consumer behaviour and preferences could shift the modal mix. As the pandemic has shown us, social distancing has become the norm and this will significantly affect the mobility behaviour and preferences of most people.

Ghanaians, as our data has shown, will be switching to transport modes that minimize the risk of infection, or ride-hailing services is the leading option available. Whereas Ghanaians have traditionally used the public transport system including the ‘trotros’ and public busses as their primary means of transport, COVID -19 is solidifying a new trend in transportation which will most likely move people to car-dependency.

Social distance in public transport does not only deny transport owners the much-needed revenue but it also denies passengers access to public transport and thus more people are likely to depend on ride-hailing services or own their cars outright.

Our available data shows an increase in first-time users of our ride-hailing service since the outbreak of the pandemic and we are likely to see more people embracing ride-hailing services in a post-COVID world.

Again, people who own private vehicles will use them increasingly, while those who previously relied on public transport might switch to other modes, such as biking or walking instead. Indeed, evidence from a number of Chinese cities has shown that private cars, walking, and biking have gained traction since the pandemic began, while public transport systems such as bus transit and subway systems have been on the disadvantageous side. For obvious reasons, mass transit of people increases the rate of spread of infection and completed studies in other jurisdictions indicate that people who used public transport were about six times more likely to be infected with COVID -19.

Whither Are We Drifting?

As the world grapples with the twin crises of a global pandemic and the possibility of a severe and prolonged economic crunch, leaders in the mobility ecosystem cannot sit back and wait to see how it all plays out.

Although the situation remains fluid, it is quite clear that COVID -19 will be with us a little while longer and the best we can do is to seek the opportunities in this crisis to build a better world for all. The mobility landscape has been upended and a new paradigm will evolve after this pandemic. The imminent emergence of a new mobility ecosystem driven on technology looks certain and we must be ready and prepared to ride along.

The author, Nonso Onwuzulike, is the Ghana Country Manager for Bolt, a ride-hailing platform.