What's next after the sharing economy

There are many things that have become remarkably exhausting during this crisis, such as shopping in the supermarket. And there are things that have become remarkably easy in this crisis. Getting a car sharing car, for example.

Before the pandemic, temporary cars were in great demand in major German cities, so the search for an available car could sometimes be tedious. But now the app of the largest German provider Sharenow is spitting out dozen available cars within walking distance on a Friday afternoon. Nobody needs a car if everyone is supposed to stay at home. But even worse: Who still wants a car in Corona times if they don't know who was in it before? Who might have coughed against the windshield or sneezed on the steering wheel?

The coronavirus hits the sharing economy hard, perhaps even worse than other branches of the economy. Because while restaurants and hotels, clothing stores and hairdressers can at least hope that their products and services will be in demand again as soon as the crisis is over, the situation is more complicated for those who rely on sharing. Using things together, inviting strangers into your own house - the sharing economy was also the dream of a better economy. Resource-saving, efficient, democratic, that was the promise.

She has not always followed this by a long way, but the concept attracted many people. Some out of idealism, others out of more pragmatic considerations: Because the room at Airbnb was cheaper than the hotel. Because a ride in a car sharing car can be cheaper than having your own car, which is often standing around and constantly has to go to the workshop. Or because it is efficient to share a workplace with others. But now the pandemic calls for distance, for contact minimization. And the question arises: will we ever want to share again?

Sharenow is the shared car sharing platform from BMW and Mercedes. According to the company, numerous cars have already been taken off the road. In addition, the cleaning cycles of the cars have been massively increased and it is recommended that gloves and protective masks be worn while driving. Sharenow does not even deny that there are still countless unused vehicles in the streets. "The demand has decreased significantly, that applies to all of Europe," says a spokesman.

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It was even more dramatic for Moia, Volkswagen's ride-sharing service. Moia is a kind of shared taxi: passengers can order it via app and share one of the electric minibuses with up to five other people who have a similar route. So far, the service has been in Hamburg and Hanover, VW had big plans for it: Moia was to become a hybrid of taxi and public transport not only in other major German cities, but throughout Europe. But in the pandemic, the company quickly ran into difficulties: At the beginning of April, the service was completely discontinued - due to a virtually complete lack of demand. Instead, Moia is now transporting medical staff to the hospital on night shifts. This is, after all, a sensible use for the cars - but not a business model.

However, the crisis in the sharing economy does not only affect mobility services. Most prominent case of pandemic problems: Airbnb. Hardly any other company embodies the sharing economy better: What began with an idealistic idea - staying cheaply overnight and also getting to know new people - became a disruptive factor for the hotel industry, which up until then was a bit dusty, and ultimately one of the largest and most influential actors in the economy Globus: Governments struggled to put Airbnb in their place, city planners desperate at the impact Airbnb had on the rental markets. Then the coronavirus practically brought global tourism to a standstill.

Airbnb first made it easier for guests to cancel - and thus turned the hosts against them, many of whom are dependent on the revenue. The company is now supporting them with 250 million dollars - while business collapses. According to the analysis company Airdna, weekly sales in Germany alone fell from 31 million euros in mid-February to 13 million at the end of March. And, similar to the mobility service providers, the idea comes to mind: Even if tourism starts up again at some point - the idea of ​​taking in strangers or staying with them, sharing the kitchen and bathroom, seems to be the one of all types of travel which is furthest away right now. This applies to commercial providers like Airbnb as well as to real couch surfers who offer accommodation for free. At the Federal Association of Coworking Space Providers, one expects that there will be an "unwanted market shakeout". And all the e-scooters, intended as the favorite toys of tourists and suit wearers in big cities, have been lying carelessly on the streets since the beginning of the pandemic. So is Corona the end of sharing as a business model?

Young, innovative people work in the industry. Can you get the idea through the crisis?

Maike Gossen has been working on the sharing economy for a long time at the Institute for Ecological Economic Research. She says there are two main reasons for getting excited about these offers. Especially at the beginning, customers and initiators of sharing offers were strongly idealistically motivated. "The first initiatives to share cars existed as early as the 1980s," says Gossen. "At that time, environmental protection was the driving motive, the question of personal comfort hardly played a role." With digitization, however, it has become much easier to organize parts. "Since then, the offers have been of interest to a larger target group - including people who not only think about the environment, but rather rationally consider what is the most interesting option for them in economic terms." If the parameters change now, Gossen believes, those who have already had good experiences with sharing offers will be able to stick with them - and the greater the role that environmental protection and sustainability play in personal motivation, the better the chances are.

25 400 cars

are currently available for car sharing in Germany, 2.29 million people are registered as users. Before the pandemic, the industry grew rapidly: According to the Federal Carsharing Association, there are currently 226 providers in the country - these include companies as well as non-profit associations. In 2019 there were only 181 providers. Most of the large providers rely on so-called free-floating systems, so the car simply stands where it was parked by the last customer and is located by the next user via a mobile phone app. This works particularly well in large cities - this system is established in a total of 17 locations in Germany. Smaller providers prefer to use station-based car sharing: Here, the cars are picked up at fixed stations and have to be returned there. Only ten providers in Germany combine both systems.

The idea of ​​the sharing economy is by no means lost to the masses - especially if it is possible to adapt the offers to the new needs. "There are many young people and many innovative start-ups active in the scene," says Gossen. "You can expect a lot of innovative strength and with it the chance to create offers that are also suitable for a living and market environment that has been changed by the pandemic." Gossen cites a problem in the early phase of private car sharing as an example. At the time, many people found the process of handing over the keys personally tedious. So a system was created with a key box directly on the car. If the hygiene in the cars is ensured, car sharing could still benefit from the fact that many people no longer want to squeeze into the bus or train. That doesn't help the environment, but the industry could survive.

There are also considerations that the corona pandemic could lead to a kind of re-regionalization - and that these smaller circles will then cheerfully share again. A first indication of this could be the growth in the platform next-door.de. Neighborhood help is traditionally organized digitally there - who can lend whom a drill, who has an air pump for their bike? In any case, Nebenan.de has already adapted. Almost everyone who lends out drills, air pumps or ladders promises contactless delivery.