With billions of people around the world forced into lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis, cities have virtually ground to a halt. Demand for public transport has plummeted, leading transit agencies and operators to reduce their services and put the majority of their fleets out of commission. However, many essential workers still need to get to their jobs, be they delivery drivers, nurses, doctors, or grocery store clerks — a problem Moovit is looking to solve with a new on-demand mobility service.

Moovit is best known for its consumer-facing app that shows people the easiest way to get around a city using a combination of transport options, but the company’s core business has been licensing its back-end platform to third parties through a mobility-as-a-service offering. Now Moovit has launched an on-demand emergency mobilization platform, making it easier for transit organizations to redeploy their unused vehicle fleets to create new transport services for frontline workers. This also allows businesses to arrange dedicated pickup services to get their essential employees safely to their place of work.

Moovit’s new platform, a paid product, is aimed at public and private companies that operate fleets of vehicles, including buses and cars. Moovit said it can convert unused fleets into fully functioning emergency services in just a few days, and it is able to cater to local emergency regulations, such as limiting the number of passengers in a single vehicle.

Riders can use the Moovit Android or iOS app as usual to find the best route to their destination, and any available vehicles in the area will be shown. Drivers receive route and pickup details in real time through their own app, which will display both on-demand and prescheduled rides. Moovit’s algorithms will dynamically route and schedule vehicles depending on the riders’ pickup and drop-off locations.

Transit agency staff can also access a desktop dashboard to manage and monitor what’s happening with their entire fleet.

Moovit has launched a new on-demand emergency mobilization platform

Above: Moovit has launched a new on-demand emergency mobilization platform.

Moovit confirmed that Bank Hapoalim, one of Israel’s biggest banks, has signed on and is using 25 vehicles from an unnamed private fleet to transport staff to its various offices and branches. The company also said that while the emergency on-demand transport platform was launched with the current pandemic in mind, it is likely to offer this service permanently.

In terms of private companies such as Bank Hapoalim that sign up to use the service, they leverage Moovit’s white label app which its employees use to book rides without prepayment. As for members of the public using the main Moovit app, well, given this has been built and launched in response to COVID-19 in a matter of weeks, it’s still a work in progress — it will eventually include booking and payment options.

However, this move fits into a broader trend across the technological and commercial landscape as businesses and workers adapt to constraints imposed by COVID-19.

Adapt and evolve

Zoom was until recently a videoconferencing app aimed at businesses, but it has emerged as the pandemic’s social network of choice, used by friends, families, and schools to stay in touch. Its user base skyrocketed from around 10 million daily users in December to 200 million in March. This also put Zoom’s questionable privacy and security practices under a global spotlight, forcing the company to pause new feature launches and focus instead on overhauling its security. Nobody wants to be “Zoombombed,” after all.

With much of the gig economy in freefall due to the global lockdown, Uber this week launched a new hub to help drivers find other work across its various businesses. And with ride-hailing and demand for restaurant food deliveries in the consumer realm reportedly down, Uber also fast-tracked the global launch of its Uber Eats for businesses product to cater to newly remote workers and those on the front lines. Meanwhile, Uber’s ride-sharing rival Via pivoted its business to use its existing shared shuttle services to help essential employees get to work, shifting its consumer-focused service to a “semi-private” incarnation aimed at qualifying workers.

Elsewhere, Heinz opened the first direct-to-consumer service in its 150-year history. The brand launched its own online store, bypassing retailers to sell and deliver food bundles to U.K consumers via Heinz to Home — deliveries are free for essential workers.

So rather than stagnating during the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies are rethinking their businesses while scoring PR kudos for their efforts to help key workers.