As we potentially pass the point of panic during a pandemic that has rocked the world, it is interesting to analyse how people and businesses are reacting to a new way of life.
People around the world have become used to the idea that they may not have to use public transport as much, travel abroad and even wear masks in places of business. It is too early to predict what will happen in a post COVID-19 world but, with the help of Rob Jonas, Foursquare’s Chief Revenue Officer, we are starting to see new trends emerging that will reshape the way we move.
“As business restrictions change, we’re seeing shifts in foot traffic to various places, with a good amount of variance across the country,” says Jonas. “We’ve consistently seen foot traffic to essential businesses like grocery stores, big box stores and liquor stores maintain pre-COVID foot traffic levels throughout the pandemic, whereas foot traffic to businesses like bars, restaurants, retail stores, gyms and airports have fluctuated, with a high level of recovery variance across the country.”
As we approach August, visits to airports are still down 60% nationally compared to pre-COVID levels, although hotel visits have been picking up in recent weeks, down only 24%. However, in the Midwest, visits are actually up 2% compared to pre-COVID levels.
These figures alone show the behavioural differences of populations in different regions, which illustrates how certain ecosystems will react and change during this challenging period.
The Recovery Period
Public transport came to a complete standstill up until a few weeks ago, but we are now seeing people going back to work in the city. This is not to say we have gone back to normality, but the movement of people is also leading the recovery of businesses, from pubs and restaurants to shops and street vendors.
However, despite these businesses starting to gain traction again, public transport is still operating at low levels and generating far less money than it would like. Back in March, when we experienced the height of lockdown, public transport was hit hardest. With less people using trains or buses, the public sector couldn’t operate.
Already in significant debt, the sector hoped to return to its normal service by now. But this wasn’t to be. In fact, some experts predict that these services will not go back to the same level of service pre-COVID until at least the end of the year.
“When the majority of offices, restaurants and brick-and-mortar retailers closed in mid-March, public transportation was one area that was most impacted,” adds Jonas. “Even as cities begin to reopen and more people return to work and shopping offline and in the real world, public transportation usage continues to remain low.”
According to Foursquare’s foot-traffic data, visits to metro stations are down 68% since mid-February and visits to train stations are down 60% nationally. With figures like this, it is hard to see a future where societies return to pre-COVID movement patterns around public transport. However, Foursquare’s data is revealing what the new ‘normal’ will look like in the future each month that goes by.
Is it too Early to Tell?
As we enter the second half of 2020, people want answers, from businesses to consumers. Unfortunately for them, it is still too early to tell if this will be a permanent change.
For example, we are seeing an influx in cycling, as people are enjoying the weather, working from home and enjoying less vehicles on the road. At present, people are reluctant to return to buses and subways at this time, as it is often difficult to maintain distance in those environments. But will this remain the same if we see everything go back to how it was?
Jonas believes that there are too many confounding factors like the warmer summer weather, which makes other forms of transportation like biking and walking more accessible.
“We’ve seen that outdoor forms of solo travel, such as bikes and scooters, are seeing an increase in usage. We recently partnered with Apptopia on a report focused on tracking transportation trends in the U.S. using a combination of app and location data. One insight we found was that while scooters are starting to make their typical comeback from the winter months, it’s bikes that seem to be gaining the most popularity.”
New mobile app installs in May and June of bike share apps are up 15.6% and 23.3% year over-year and foot-traffic to bike shares and bike shops have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Foursquare’s data also shows a renewed interest in acquiring new and used vehicles, which are seeing a rise in demand due to people favouring their own personal transport instead of sharing.
In June for example, visits to auto dealerships rose above pre-COVID levels, and new user growth for apps used to shop for and purchase automobiles was up 16% year-over-year in June.
“Again, it’s too early to tell what the lasting impact will be on the transportation sector, but as of right now, it’s clear that people are embracing more solitary forms of transportation over public transportation, at least for the time being.”
Jonas as his team continue to keep a close eye on trends in consumer behavior, so make sure to check their blog for the latest research on COVID-19 and the impact on transport and society.