Coronavirus has had a profoundly negative impact on many transportation operations within cities worldwide, but Hyundai’s mobility off-shoot MoceanLab has used lockdown as an opportunity to think anew about its operations in California.
Launched last November to provide mobility services in Los Angeles - while also aiming to reduce congestion ahead of the 2028 Olympics – MoceanLab suddenly found a void where its customers should have been.
“We were due to launch our broad free-floating base service in April,” the firm’s vice president strategy and growth Dave Gallon tells ITS International over a Zoom call. “But with the pandemic craziness starting just a couple of weeks before that we decided it probably wasn’t the best time to launch.”
After launching its LA car-share service, MoceanLab directed some of its hybrid vehicles into an intriguing area: delivering healthcare for the city’s homeless population
Gallon says that MoceanLab wanted to put its vehicles to good use rather than having them “sit in a garage somewhere”.
It got in contact with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) – whose ‘street medicine’ team is now using two low-emission vehicles from Mocean Carshare when travelling to people in homeless encampments and under freeway overpasses.
“The street medicine team were driving their own vehicles out to treat their patients, within doing so really putting themselves and their families at risk in terms of infection and spread. We had a protocol in place to provide and clean vehicles adequately between usage to help minimise the risk of spread," Gallon explains. "We reached out and were able to come to a collaboration agreement with them where we could give them vehicles for use for free for the duration of the pandemic, and to support the work they are doing."
This population of LA’s most vulnerable is hard to reach because it includes both people in homeless shelters and those spending most of their time sleeping on the street.
“The medicine team are doing all their blood work and all their vaccine distribution - really almost anything you can do in an office - right there, behind the dumpster, where the person lives,” he continues.
USC’s team provides treatment for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, dispensing medication, delivering drug and alcohol counselling and basic mental health services, and providing basic survival supplies.
The team also informs the academic work of researchers seeking to better understand the challenges facing the unsheltered homeless population and to develop more effective care.
According to Gallon, the move provides the medicine team with a more reliable alternative to what he refers to as the “large, guzzling trucks and SUVs”.
“In the past, they’ve had vehicles that break down and they’ve not been able to reach their target population each day,” he says. “With our service, if a vehicle does need to go in for regular scheduled maintenance, we provide them with a vehicle for the day.”
Shedding light on the technology involved, Gallon clarifies that multiple drivers within the medicine team can access either vehicle without a key through the company’s mobile app.
This also provides an understanding of when the vehicle is being used so cleaning can be scheduled appropriately with cleaning agents recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, the street medicine team is also taking precautions by keeping personal protective equipment (PPE) in a medically sealed bag to reduce any risk of infection in the vehicle.
However, Gallon recognises that “homelessness exists everywhere across LA”; indeed, official figures released by the LA Homeless Services Authority show an increase in homelessness in the past year.
The authority’s Greater LA Homeless Count 2020 says there are 66,436 homeless people in LA County – up 12% on last year. Homelessness has also increased in the city of LA by 16% from 35,500 in 2019 to 41,290 in 2020.
Despite this, Gallon says the mayor’s office of homeless services and LA’s chief resilience officer Aaron Gross are working together to “build a more resilient city broadly, which means for every resident, and homelessness is a major problem”.
He says the city was looking pre-pandemic at how temporary housing could provide “immediate alleviation” for some problems, while also considering longer-term solutions.
“Hopefully what becomes a rising tide of economic growth coming out of Covid really becomes how do we help spread that tide to raise all the boats and not just those most able to take advantage of economic growth,” he muses.
MoceanLab’s vehicles are being used in other projects in LA, for example to deliver groceries and food to older people or those who are isolating because their health may be compromised in some way.
“They’re also providing hot meals to people working at Covid relief centres and testing centres,” he smiles. “We’re also currently in discussions with another major hospital here in LA to help support a homeless services team.”
Looking ahead, MoceanLab is keen to collaborate with partners around the world who are interested in using LA as a laboratory for mobility solutions.
When asked if any similar projects will crop up elsewhere in the US, he does not rule out the possibility that Hyundai may choose to “take some of the things we have found a success and roll them out across the country”.
“It could be that you see something like a fleet programme being implemented in other areas of the country. This could be done by other affiliates or by a group that spins out of MoceanLab, especially if we find that Mocean Carshare becomes a popular solution to the mobility woes of LA,” he concludes.
The partnership with USC Keck School of Medicine may not be able to eradicate the issue of homelessness, but it does leave you wondering which other cities could benefit from such an approach.
Mocean Carshare adapting to Covid-19
In response to Covid-19, Mocean Carshare offered a 50% discount to hospital workers, first responders and those who work in city and county government – some of whom do not own vehicles.
Speaking in August, Dave Gallon, MoceanLab’s vice president, strategy and growth, says many of these people are relying on transit, which has been limited due to lack of demand, while some services are oversubscribed and unable to pick up everyone.
“So we want to provide alternatives to that, that solve people’s problems that may feel like a safer alternative to them,” he elaborates. “Obviously, due to the number of vehicles we have and the number of people we have in those vehicles we’re able to clean those more extensively than, say, a city bus.”
For non-essential travel, the company is urging its members to act responsibly and take proper precautions against the coronavirus.
“We’re working to help bring the health and wellbeing of the LA community back,” Gallon continues.
Mocean Carshare took to the streets of LA earlier this year to provide a free-floating service in which drivers can return the car to any public parking space within a ‘home zone’ that shows up in the app. The driver’s smartphone serves as a key throughout the journey.
Drivers must pay a $12 fee to join the service and are then charged on a pay-by-use basis of $0.42 a minute, $14 per hour and $86 per day.