FROM relative obscurity a few years ago, the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has risen to become a central planning consideration for city governments, public transport authorities, operators and tech firms. Indeed, Maas was a hot topic at the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) Global Public Transport Summit, which was held in June in Stockholm, a city where the MaaS revolution is already underway with Stockholm Local Transport (SL) bundling its services for sale via the UbiGo app.
The challenges of urbanisation, air pollution and climate change mean radical transformation of the transport system is required to meet the needs of the sustainable and connected cities of the future. As many cities are already discovering, technology can connect previously siloed travel options and integrate them through a single user interface, unleashing combined mobility that can match the flexibility and freedom of car ownership without an expensive and underutilised asset depreciating on your driveway or cluttering a city street.
Car ownership will become less convenient as cities move towards banishing private motor vehicles from their streets. Oslo will ban cars from its city centre streets this year and Madrid will follow next year. Hamburg is building a Green Network of public spaces that can be accessed without cars and plans to make walking and cycling dominant forms of transport, while Paris plans to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and double its cycle lane network. Tellingly, all of these cities are also embracing MaaS.
Primed for MaaS
With the computing power in our pockets, the rollout of 5G public networks and online subscription services such as Netflix and Spotify an increasing feature of everyday life, the public transport user is already primed for MaaS.
According to the MaaS Alliance, a Public Private Partnership (PPP) which aims to foster a common approach to MaaS and unlock economies of scale, the global MaaS sector is expected to become a business worth more than a trillion euros by 2030. But in a burgeoning market, where regulation is struggling to keep pace with technological developments and changing consumer expectations, how can policymakers ensure MaaS delivers benefits for everyone and offers a genuine alternative to car ownership?
Defining exactly what MaaS is can be difficult and there are varying interpretations of what does and does not constitute MaaS. According to the UITP, MaaS is “the integration of, and access to, different transport services in one single mobility offer with active mobility and an efficient public transport system as its basis. This tailor-made service suggests the most suitable solutions based on the user’s travel needs. MaaS is available anytime and offers integrated planning, booking and payment as well as en route information to provide easy mobility and enable life without owning a car.”
According to the MaaS Alliance, MaaS should promote:
- the use of a single application to provide access to mobility, with a single payment channel instead of multiple ticketing and payment operations
- the facilitation of a diverse menu of transport options - public transport, ride-, car-, or bike-sharing, taxi, car rental or lease, or a combination thereof
- an alternative to the private use of cars that may be as convenient, more sustainable and even cheaper
- integrated ticketing, payment, multi/inter-modal traveller’s information and routing
- digitalisation as an aid to the effectiveness of the transport system; and
- different pricing models for different services and products.
“As an organisation, are you strong enough, big enough, to make it a success? ”
David Van Kesteren, CEO of Taxistop and Chair of UITP Combined Mobility Committee
Dr Maria Kamargianni, lecturer in transport and energy at University College London (UCL) and head of MaasLab, suggested in a 2017 paper that MaaS brings two new roles into the public transport value chain: the integrator, which is responsible for bringing together the services of different public transport providers, and the operator, which packages and delivers these services to the end user. Either of these roles can be fulfilled by the public or private sector, depending on the model adopted - in a publicly controlled MaaS, the transport authority might act as MaaS integrator and operator. In a market driven scenario, these roles might be taken by private sector organisations. In a PPP, the public sector might take on the role of integrator and work with a private sector partner in the operator role.
“Who takes on which role? That is a key question,” Mr David Van Kesteren, CEO of Taxistop and chair of the UITP Combined Mobility Committee, said at the UITP Global Public Transport Summit in Stockholm. “As an organisation, are you strong enough, big enough, to make it a success? The commercial integrator is the most common model and in this scenario it’s the job of the integrator to make it fly. If this fails, MaaS will be lost in a moment.”
According to the UITP, it is the integrator’s job to make MaaS a success. It will be the stakeholder capable of attracting the highest number of customers and creating the most value for all the business partners in the MaaS ecosystem. The integrator could be a transport authority, a tech firm, a MaaS company, or even a bank.
Any public transport operator stepping into the role of MaaS operator needs to consider competition law, pricing and how they will ensure fair and equal access for all players. Risks in MaaS deployments include the MaaS operator becoming the ‘gatekeeper,’ disclosure of commercially-sensitive data and business information to competitors and bias in algorithms. Some observers have suggested that market-driven approaches to MaaS might deplete public transport by making access to car-based services more convenient, and because these more-costly services might generate more profits for the MaaS operator.
Van Kesteren says successful MaaS will deliver value for every partner, with reciprocity and data deals, while allowing individual mobility providers to maintain their customer relationships.
User experience is another key consideration and must be optimised right from launch. “Quality is very important to the MaaS discussion,” says Van Kestenen. “You have one chance to change an individual’s way of thinking about mobility. You might not get another chance. You cannot do a half-and-half MaaS, it’s essential to get the quality right. If the solution you offer to the user is not high quality, he will return to his private car right away.”
In Helsinki, the Whim app has been closely aligned to the needs of the user with the aim of convincing commuters to give up their cars for good. “When we assemble our products, we know that in Helsinki, an average resident makes four trips a day and the length of the trips usually varies between 2 and 30km, and the daily travel time is 90 minutes,” Mr Sampo Hietanen, CEO and founder of MaaS Global explained in a recent blog post on the company’s website. “But when we package our products, we look at two things: first, the desirability and therefore the willingness to pay for our service must rank right next to owning a car; secondly, we must be able to influence how different modes of transport are used within the service. When we get these two factors right, we’re selling for more than we’re buying, and when we do that in great quantities, we are profitable.
“To make all of this work, we must understand that we are in the operator business. We need considerable volumes to achieve success, and to get there we subsidise our offering in the beginning. If you look at how much an average user is worth to Facebook, it’s around 0.30 a month, while a mobile phone or a broadband user may be paying somewhere around €30 a month for the operator’s service. However, if you own a car, you are paying somewhere around €500 every month. That’s the price point that makes building a MaaS operator such a lucrative idea. MaaS is massive beyond anything we’ve experienced in digital services so far.”
“In a digital economy, the ownership and access to data determines market dominance,”
says a white paper on creating the foundations for a MaaS ecosystem.
As Amazon and Facebook have amply demonstrated, whoever controls the data flowing through the platform ultimately benefits from the value it generates. MaaS requires an ecosystem where multiple organisations act in collaboration outside traditional company boundaries. This can only be done successfully in an open ecosystem.
“In a digital economy, the ownership and access to data determines market dominance,” says a white paper on creating the foundations for a MaaS ecosystem, which was published by the MaaS Alliance in September 2017. “In order to build real multiplayer, multi-option market platforms, the service providers should provide each other with access to essential information in a computer-readable format, including routes, timetables, stops, prices and accessibility information.”
Policymakers around the globe are still waking up to the need for a governance structure to regulate MaaS deployments and ensure the technology is used in a way that supports policy goals. Finland was the first country in the world to create a legislative framework for MaaS and the opening of data, which is so crucial for the effective functioning of MaaS ecosystems. Adopted in April 2017, the Act on Transport Services aims to “create preconditions for digitalisation and new business models in transport,” providing a basis for “seamless” multimodal travel chains. The act, which came into effect in 2018, makes the opening of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) a legal requirement for mobility services and includes provisions on the interoperability of ticketing and payment systems.
As well as making multimodal travel more attractive, the legislation aims to make the operation of the Finnish transport system more cost-effective. “The new Act will create a framework for a more efficient arrangement of publicly subsidised passenger transport by utilising digitalisation, combined transport and different fleet types,” the Ministry of Transport and Communications said in 2017. “The goal set in the Government Programme is to achieve a 10% saving in publicly subsidised passenger transport.”
“Open data and open APIs are the foundations on which apps need to be built.”
Mr Jake Sion, COO of Canadian shared mobility startup Transit.
The lack of consistency in regulation between countries is creating challenges for MaaS. “Currently the transport sector is mode-specifically regulated which does not always favour the implementation of MaaS,” says the MaaS Alliance. “In addition, there is no harmonised way in how the MaaS operator as a new actor is handled in terms of transport regulation in different EU Member States, which may hinder the emergence of new (cross-border) services. Development of the MaaS market will rely on access and open data, open APIs and more flexible transport and mobility regulations.”
Despite the regulatory challenges, many mobility service operators are already opening up their APIs to gain access to the MaaS ecosystem and this is also helping to drive technological development. “Open data and open APIs are the foundations on which apps need to be built,” says Mr Jake Sion, COO of Canadian shared mobility startup Transit. “Transit is the number 3 navigation app in North America. We wouldn’t exist today if operators hadn’t opened their data.”
In a market ripe for disruption it is essential that public transport operators articulate their role in MaaS, ensuring that mass transit takes its rightful place at the core of the combined mobility solutions of the future. Doing nothing means big corporate interests will come to dominate the market, with negative consequences for value distribution and the ability to harness MaaS for public policy goals. In this respect, collaboration between public transport operators will be essential to share experience, develop common standards, and generate economies of scale.
“Combining mobility services is the only way to reduce the individual use of cars,” UITP secretary general, Mr Mohamed Mezghani, said in Stockholm. “A MaaS offer will not succeed if it is not built around public mass transit and designed to address policy goals. Behind all the discussion about technology, the one common element is people. More than ever, people are demanding a change in urban mobility. Leaders have a responsibility to keep that at the heart of what we do.”
Odin: collaboration in Scandinavia
THE need to align public transport with new players in the mobility market is one of the key challenges facing MaaS. In Scandinavia, the Open Mobility Data in the Nordics (Odin) project has been set up to accelerate and coordinate the work needed to create a unified mobility market across the Nordic region. The project is being coordinated by Rise Viktoria, a non-profit research institute dedicated to enabling sustainable mobility through ICT, and funded by Swedish infrastructure manager Trafikverket and the Swedish Innovation Agency.
The aim of the project is to lower barriers to market entry and accelerate the development of smart mobility services. By harmonising data delivery throughout the Nordic countries, Odin hopes to build a foundation for an attractive smart mobility market.
Odin is addressing six key topic areas, where it aims to strengthen cooperation between the Nordic states. These include:
- datasets and services
- conditions for reuse of data
- standards and formats
- leveraging EU regulations
- shared technology and open source
- outreach and developer experience.
Odin envisages a common baseline for data sets and services and common licenses for the reuse of data, with harmonised terms for access to data, which would enable services to be deployed across the Nordic region.
Dubai: four steps to MaaS
DUBAI Roads and Transport Authority rolled out its S’hail MaaS app in four phases, each followed by a major marketing campaign focussing on new features. The first phase was launched in March 2017 and provided simple journey planning and taxi booking.
The second phase launched in September 2017 and added intermodal trip planning, real-time bus information, and the integration of Uber and Careem ride-sharing services. In April 2017, ferries, long-distance buses, car-sharing services eKar and Udrive were brought into the app, while user statistics analytics were added to the back-end.
The fourth phase is due to go live in November and will add real-time bus location, offline network maps and a cycling layer.