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How an entire country reframed their rideshare service for essential deliveries during the coronavirus pandemic

Responding to COVID-19: Malta repurposed its on-demand microtransit network during the public health crisis to deliver things like groceries and medicine.

Via Transportation •

What do you do when a global pandemic turns your public transportation network into a ghost town? If you are transport leaders in Malta, you take lemons and make lemonade.

In July of 2019, Cool – a partnership between Via and the Debono Group – launched as Malta’s first-ever transportation service offering on-demand shared rides, and grew its footprint slowly over time. Using the Cool app, riders are able to hail a shared shuttle directly from their smartphone. The service amassed over 40,000 downloads and completed more than 200,000 rides in its first nine months of operation.

But as COVID-19 led to mandated need for social distancing, Malta’s increasingly popular new service needed to pump the brakes. Cool leaders, however, had a new plan. It took just two days for Cool to extend its service zone from a few select communities to the entire country. During a health crisis that left most of the country’s residents sheltering in place, the switch allowed Cool to quickly start servicing essential rides and deliveries across the country.

Recognizing the need for change during the COVID-19 pandemic

In response to service changes and new mandates, the Cool team started talking to customers and Driver Partners, asking questions to find opportunities that would help drivers and the Maltese community at large in this challenging situation. Cool has taken those conversations to heart, switching their service to provide private rides only to maintain social distancing guidelines. They increased its cleaning and disinfecting policies. They then made the decision to extend the service zone throughout the country, and expanded its use to goods delivery, allowing grocery stores and small businesses to easily ship essential goods using the local service app.

The move was a lifeline for local retailers that didn’t already have digital shipment infrastructure of their own. “Places across the globe are responding in real-time to create changes for their communities that will curb the spread of COVID-19,” said Laura Jasenaite, CEO of Cool Ride-Pooling in Malta. “The entire country of Malta has quickly risen to the challenge and helped their community stay safe when they have to move and get essential deliveries to those who are at home.”

As social distancing has necessitated a decrease in movement in Malta, the country has seen a spike in e-commerce. The rise in online shopping has required an increasing need for the delivery of goods, which Cool has been able to help with. “Most of our first customers are brick-and-mortar shops without any experience in e-commerce,” Jasenaite added. “They are now accepting orders by phone and have their goods delivered by Cool. Now, we also support supermarkets with groceries delivery.”

While all passenger trips are now private rides to allow for social distancing, by using Via's technology, Cool now allows all deliveries to be shared – plus, drivers can see if they are servicing an essential private ride or a delivery in their app. The adjusted algorithm groups packages together, providing an increase in the volume of packages that can be picked up by the same vehicle and creating more efficient deliveries.

“We believe the public recognizes and appreciates the decisions we have taken in choosing to help communities in these dire times.” Jasenaite feels that even if Cool’s “typical” service model cannot be operated during this current moment, “we are confident that our customers’ loyalty will help us get back on track once we regain some form of normality in everyday life.”

Wanting to help the community by helping those most at risk

Hoping to help the Maltese community, Cool also used its on-demand technology for a variety of new tasks during the pandemic. The service began providing free rides to COVID-19 information line volunteers, offering free grocery deliveries for the elderly, and assisting Caritas Internationalis (a charity relief organization) to supply food to those in need.

“Like everywhere, people in Malta are concerned about customers’ safety. In the times of the pandemic, they appreciate that they can use our Cool service without sharing a ride,” Jasenaite explains. “Others are thankful for free deliveries or free rides. Every little bit helps and we are here to help each other and the communities where we operate.” The team at Cool is focused right now on helping their community across the country. They feel assured that those choices are building trust with their riders and building a sense of confidence in their ability to mobilize and create mobility in the community.

Jasenaite advises that it’s important to spend energy on what we can control and look for new possibilities with the resources we have. “People now are as united as never before. I suggest directing energy on creating products and services that can make an impact on coping with the new reality and returning stronger than ever before.”