A new mobility framework law introduced in France on December 24 2020 aims to move towards a more inclusive, sustainable and climate friendly transport.

As a result, the mandate of regional transport authorities has broadened from overseeing publicly-owned operators to providing equal levels of access for both public and private operators, says Mr Laurent Mezzini, director of the systems business unit at Systra. Their scope has also widened to cover both cities and the surrounding areas to improve regional connections.

In order to provide a level playing field for all public transport operators, the regional authorities are looking to develop Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platforms to facilitate this new shift.

“To make it happen in the best way, one of the things they need to do is collect transport data from all mobility service providers, both private and public,” Mezzini says. “And that’s why it’s accelerating MaaS, because we have to come up with these mobility platforms and by law they need to organise the mobility providers.”

Data generated by operators can include everything from timetables and loadings, to fares and travel habits. However, one of the biggest debates around MaaS is who gets to store and use the data and information generated by passengers and operators.

“Our approach to MaaS is to be involved as early as possible.”

Laurent Mezzini, director of the ystems business unit at Systra

Operators can be reluctant to freely share their data out of concern that they will provide access to commercially valuable information. They also worry about losing the relationship with their customers if they begin purchasing tickets through third-party apps. The new law aims to address this.

In the model under exploration, the public transport authority becomes the neutral and trusted third party to gather the required data from all operators and make it available to any developers creating a MaaS application.

This creates competition within the MaaS application sector, Mezzini says, as other players looking to enter the market, such as SAP, have access to the complete range of data. This in turn provides more choice for passengers deciding which MaaS application is best suited to their travel needs.

“Once these backend systems are in place, there is this framework for local competition through MaaS,” he says. “I think it changes a lot of the ecosystem because we can see a lot of new players coming in to accommodate the relationship between the user and the transport provider, whether they are public or private, and offer a mobility service.”

Systra, a company in which Paris Transport Authority (RATP) and French National Railways (SNCF) each hold 42% stakes, includes a consulting division that plays an important role in advising cities developing a public transport network.

This involves creating simulations and passenger forecasts to advise on the best modes of transport to meet passenger needs, such as metro, light rail and bus services alongside newer modes as well as bikes or scooters.

Following the introduction of the new mobility framework, Systra has also begun to advise on how the law should be implemented to suit passenger needs and cities’ wider transport policy objectives. This includes helping to develop the specifications for MaaS systems.

“Our approach to MaaS is to be involved as early as possible,” Mezzini says. “That’s really where we want to help (the authorities) and where we’re very key to make the link between their policy objectives and what we specify in the MaaS platform so that we end up with something that is going to achieve these objectives.”

Once the transport system has been developed to meet the requirements of the transport policy, the technical system then needs to be implemented, Mezzini says. This should specify what kinds of data should be exchanged and what type of API will be used. Cybersecurity is also a major consideration from the start of development.

“What’s important for (the operator) is to make sure they have an open ecosystem where everybody has access to the data,” Mezzini says. “They also don’t want to be stuck with a closed IT system. It will need to evolve because technology is evolving quite fast so it’s quite difficult to say what it will look like five years from now. So we want to have very agile systems that can evolve and transfer data from one system to another.”

Lack of alternatives

MaaS is often seen as a solution to fixing inner city congestion, but Mezzini points out that larger cities such as Paris, which already have a large range of transport options, already have low rates of car ownership within the city. Instead, the congestion is often caused by people driving in from medium or low density areas outside the city centre due to a lack of alternative modes of transport.

“MaaS can of course offer better connections for a city centre,” Mezzini says. “But the important work to reduce congestion is also to provide options for people moving from low density city zones to high density zones. That is where the difficulty remains and where MaaS can provide better alternatives.”

“I think MaaS is going to bring a revolution in mobility,”

Laurent Mezzini

Providing these alternative transport options doesn’t necessarily mean they will be used instantly, but MaaS can provide the necessary information to allow people to select the right transport option for their journey.

This has been highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic, when passengers have been concerned about the safety of travelling on public transport.

“It has been proven that a reasonable density of people using a mask is quite safe, but there’s still a challenge to change people’s mindsets today and restore confidence in public transport,” Mezzini says. “Following the lockdown in Paris, we have had huge traffic jams while public transport was available but quite empty. What can MaaS do for that? Equip people with information on the availability, regularity and the cleanliness of public transport.”

For example, a passenger trying to decide whether to drive or take a train to work may wonder how many people are on the train, whether they will get a seat or will have to stand for the journey, and how long the journey will take. This could then be compared with live information to warn of any traffic jams that could slow their journey if they travel by car.

“The challenge is to provide contextual data about the congestion on both the public transport modes and the road,” Mezzini says.

A number of questions remain about how exactly these systems will function: how will the access to the end user and the payment be governed? Will there be multiple MaaS apps vying for a passenger’s attention? And will these apps allow passengers to travel from one city to another? Mezzini says the answer to these will become clearer as implementation gets underway. But one thing is certain: “I think MaaS is going to bring a revolution in mobility,” he says.