The emergence and subsequent global spread of a novel type of coronavirus in the first half of 2020 abruptly put the brakes on our globalized society. Borders went up, planes stayed down, and people all over the world stayed home. As a result of lockdowns, our usually mobile world suddenly became much more static.
Under normal circumstances, countless apps help us navigate through our cities and around our planet, aggregating data and calculating routes for us to take in public transport, or telling us whether we will make our connecting flights. In times of Covid-19, these apps see considerably less usage. But just that has brought an entirely new role to them that their developers likely never envisioned: the data from Citymapper, Moovit, Google Maps and co. can be used to measure the impact of the coronavirus-countermeasures.
Moovit, a popular public transportation navigation app with support for several hundred cities around the world, is one such example. Moovit has started releasing mobility data, showing the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on cities’ public transportation usage. The “Moovit Public Transit Index” takes the average number of rides per city using the app and compares it to the week of January 8th, before the global pandemic took hold.
Similarly, Citymapper – an up-and-coming app that hopes to “make cities usable” by compiling not just public transportation, but also e-scooters, bikes, carsharing and Uber into one app – has recently started releasing its own usage statistics. The dip in transit usage seen by Citymapper was even deeper than that in Moovit’s data, perhaps due to a difference in its users’ demographics (though this is only speculation). The Citymapper Mobility Index compares the daily transit usage to the average daily number of rides between January 7th and February 2nd.
It’s not just land transportation, though, that has seen a massive decline in passengers. Air travel is among the worst-hit sectors by the epidemic, with airports like Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport seeing a decline of up to 90% in the number of passengers.
Flightradar24 tracks global flight movements, tracing and logging almost all civilian flights that whiz around earth every single day. Usually, its services are used by travelers to see whether their plane will be delayed, to check the arrivals and departures at airports, or simply to have a nosy around and see where random planes are going. Now, we can see from its data just how much global commercial flights have decreased.
Note that the chart below includes cargo flights, which have been less impacted by the virus than passenger-carrying flights.
Both Google and Apple are also releasing mobility data collected by their services, for it “could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19,” Google’s website says. The data shows, in an anonymized form, how people’s everyday habits have changed in different regions of the world – ranging from a decrease of visits to shops to lower volumes of travelers at train stations.
2020 might have closed borders and trapped people indoors, but thanks to the internet, the world is still more connected than it was ever before. And it has allowed us to see the impact of Covid-19 in an entirely new way.