Staff Writer

For years, we've been discussing the growth of the sharing economy, largely driven by apps like Uber and Airbnb. But in a world where people have gotten used to sharing a car-ride to the airport with a stranger or sleeping in the spare room of someone they've never met before, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing people to think twice about how they move around their cities and whether they travel at all, nevermind where they stay.

As of March 20, 2020, the virus had killed 11,299 and infected 90,618 people worldwide. As a result of the virus, governments have imposed social distancing measures. The measures are aimed at reducing face to face interactions, with the ultimate goal of limiting the spread of infections through contact. While the measures seem to be working, it's having a big impact on the apps that have given rise to the sharing economy.

Implications of social distancing on ride-hailing apps

How many times have you jumped into an Uber or Lyft without thinking twice about who you're sharing the car with, or who was in the car before you? That's no longer an option. The Washington Post reports that Uber rides are down 70% in some markets. Lyft has been similarly impacted, driving both companies to rethink how they do business.

That starts with the suspension of carpooling services. Once an economical way of traveling, carpooling is banned for the time being. Meanwhile, both Uber and Lyft are turning to deliveries to help keep their doors open and their drivers working.

We've also seen an increase in traffic for food delivery apps. Ordering food through Postmates is now more popular than ever. It’s reported that the Orcado delivery app in the UK crashed due to a surge in the number of users. Uber Eats, and other food delivery services, are offering contactless drop-off, allowing users to "leave a note in the Uber Eats app to ask your delivery person to leave your food at the door." Uber Eats has also announced it will waive delivery fees for all orders from independent restaurants.

Lyft has responded by expanding the types of services it provides, announcing it will deliver medical supplies to those in need. It's also delivering food, but with a twist. "Students who receive free or subsidized lunch at school and home-bound seniors have been heavily affected by shelter-in-place advisories. To meet crucial food access gaps, Lyft is working in partnership with government agencies and local non-profits."

Short-term rentals plummet, apps respond

With people sheltering in place or self-quarantining, the demand for rental properties has plummeted. Airbnb has tweaked its policy in response to the virus. You can now cancel bookings made before March 14, 2020 without incurring penalties. Airbnb has also petitioned governments to consider tax breaks for the hosts.

Over at Bookings.com, customers have been advised to consider changing their travel plans. Traveling services apps also continue to encourage people to make only important trips.

Coronavirus and COVID-19 have made it clear just how intertwined we all are. While many in the mobile industry are well-situated to weather the pandemic working from home (game downloads are booming), there are many who are vulnerable to a disruption in the status quo and companies are getting creative to keep their businesses running, their employees healthy, and put their resources to work helping others.