Geographies in Depth

How Chinese companies are responding to COVID-19 mobility challenges

A JD.com delivery worker wearing a face mask unloads parcels outside a residential compound, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang - RC2X4F99JTNL

A JD.com delivery worker unloads packages in Beijing. Image: REUTERS/Tingshu Wang - RC2X4F99JTNL

Peng He
Lead, Automotive and New Mobility, World Economic Forum Beijing
Zili Huang
Intern, Platforms for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum Beijing
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COVID-19

  • COVID-19 has affected mobility in China, with transport down 50% around Chinese New Year, compared to last year.
  • Many people are staying home, increasing demand for services such as online deliveries.
  • Here's how some companies have responded, including new services to help hospitals and the use of autonomous vehicles for deliveries.

One of the biggest effects of COVID-19 in China has been its impact on the mobility sector.

For example, the 40 days around Chinese New Year, called “Chunyun” (spring transport), is usually one of the largest migrations of people in the world. There were 2.98 billion passengers in total during this period in 2019, according to the data from the Ministry of Transport. During Chunyun 2020, which ended on 18 February, however, there were only 1.48 billion passengers, a drop of 50%.

Here are some ways companies are responding to mobility challenges with innovative new solutions.

How COVID-19 spread in China. Image: World Economic Forum

New options for ride services

When the first cases of the outbreak were detected, several mobility service companies reacted quickly to launch unique services to help respond.

For example, after Wuhan announced the lockdown of the city, the local government called for 6,000 taxis to serve urgent requests. As the largest passenger car company in Wuhan, Dongfeng Automotive supported the request with 300 ride-hailing drivers from their mobility service brand, Dongfeng Go.

Several other mobility service companies also joined, including T3 Mobility, CaoCao Mobility, Amap and Shouqi. In addition, Shouqi Limousine and Chauffeured Services gathered more 500 rider-hailing drivers as response.

DiDi Chuxing, the largest Chinese mobility service provider, also organized a team of 1,336 ride-hailing drivers to provide emergency services to the medical workforce in Wuhan, as well as set up free service teams in Shanghai, Beijing, Ningbo and Xiamen to help service the local hospitals.

To help keep drivers and passengers safe, companies including Shouqi and DiDi built disinfection stations over the country for on-demand mobility vehicles.

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Online and autonomous deliveries

Due to the outbreak, logistic companies are facing a lack of express couriers, as many people avoid supermarkets and stay indoors, driving up the demand for deliveries.

Normally, when people order goods like electronics from online shops, they arrive within a day. Deliveries of groceries or fresh food can happen faster, often within one hour. Now, delivery times are much longer. Now, items usually arrive on the second day, or even later for some items.

In some communities, new policies mean that delivery drivers are no longer able to go directly to people's doors, meaning those ordering in have to go to the entrance of the community to pick up their items.

Some companies are turning to autonomous vehicles (AVs) to help solve delivery issues and provide a “touchless” system to help reduce the risk of virus spread.

For example, JD.com had their first delivery in Wuhan by autonomous logistic vehicle on 6 February from JD X Business Unit to a hospital that is close to the JD.com logistic station. How does it work? People load the autonomous logistic vehicle at the station, and then the autonomous vehicle delivers the goods to the destination. One vehicle could deliver 24 orders of small packages by one trip with travel speed of 15 km/h.

Meituan also recently began pilloting AVs for delivery in Shunyi District, Beijing. The delivery vehicle from Meituan can travel up to 100km carrying load of 100kg at the speed up to 20km/h. It mainly delivers fresh vegetables and food. China Unicom worked together with Meituan to ensure the support of 5G network for its autonomous delivery vehicle.

In addition, Keenon Robotics is using meal-delivery robots to reach people in hospitals and quarantine zones in more than 40 cities.

Though the mobility and logistic sectors are under significant impact by the COVID-19, it may also provide opportunity to try out the new technology and accelerate the deployment

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Geographies in DepthHealth and Healthcare Systems
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