Is ‘car-free’ life over for big cities? How will this impact rentals?
A recent article in Vice caught our eye.
It was titled ‘New Yorkers Are Thinking About Getting Cars Because of COVID-19’ and tells the story of a post-pandemic New York where the ‘car-free’ lifestyles of its inhabitant might be very different.
The article features Doug Gordon, co-author of The War On Cars podcast and committed safe street activist. As it turns out, even Gordon is considering buying a car in the wake of coronavirus.
“If NYC isn’t really NYC anymore, how does that change how we live here?” he told the Vice reporter.
That got us thinking. If there’s going to be an increase in car usage in big cities, how will this impact the rental sector?
A radically altered city life
Gordon seems to have a point. COVID-19 has significantly changed city life, but many believe New York sits at the heart of this alteration.
The city’s sprawling transport system, decent walkability and bicycle-friendly streets has led to a largely car-free population. But in a world where social distancing looks set to continue in some form for the foreseeable future, the ability to travel freely without a car could prove increasingly challenging.
In some boroughs of New York, household car ownership rates are well below 50%, but that figure may increase as life returns to some form of normality.
The car: a new safe haven?
At the time of writing, although restrictions are being eased slightly, people are still encouraged to avoid mass transportation systems where possible. For those who can’t travel by foot or bicycle, a car might be the only viable alternative.
This stands to reason. Cars are safe havens compared to the confined spaces of public transport, and social distancing becomes eminently achievable, no matter where you happen to be driving.
The implications of this on the recovery for big cities shouldn’t be underestimated, but could the sudden demand for cars be good news for the car rental sector?
To rent or buy? That’ll be the question…
Transportation Alternatives executive director, Danny Harris, also features in the Vice article and suggests that the lack of space in New York and a more nervous consumer base is unlikely to boost car sales. “New York City doesn’t have the space and New Yorkers don’t have the wallets or the lung capacity for a growth in private car usage,” he explained.
The alternative? Rentals. It’s fair to assume that if rental prices are more digestible than lease deals or new car purchases and can be taken advantage of on an ad-hoc basis, city dwellers may be tempted.
Much of the data surrounding these hypotheses is too anecdotal to prove conclusive, but there will almost certainly be an opportunity for car rental firms to step in and serve the needs of those who don’t want to travel by public transport.
Gordon goes on to highlight the increased desire for ‘staycations’ in a post-pandemic world. “We have been talking to friends who have cars and are taking day trips to parks or beaches,” he told Vice, “and that seems very attractive.”
Of all the opportunities for car rental firms in big cities, this is perhaps the most exciting. With more day trips planned by families and people who have never considered owning a car, the demand for rentals could increase dramatically.
Time will tell, but maybe now is the ideal time to ensure your car rental firm’s tech is on-point and ready to deal with any increase in demand.