From genesis to revolution
How people travel is undergoing profound change. This is giving rise to a new ecosystem of personal mobility called Mobility as a Service (MaaS). MaaS is a concept that could change how we travel from A to B and have effects that reach far beyond transportation itself, as Jack Opiola explains
With the advent of Mobility as a Service, stakeholders from many sectors, including vehicle manufacturing, insurance, healthcare, energy, communications and city planning will have to reconsider how they create and provide value in this emerging environment. Operators and owners of transport infrastructure will also be involved in charting the course for MaaS and how it affects our daily lives. All of these transportation operators will have to contend with sizeable shifts in industry standards, and all will have needs they must satisfy in order to ensure short-term and long-term success.
But, what exactly is Mobility as a Service (MaaS)? It is, essentially, a nascent concept. Its genesis is the result of a series of profound technological and societal shifts, some of which are continuing to evolve, and some of which are still emerging. There are potentially huge opportunities in terms of increasing the sustainability of mobility. However, for delivery to be successful and understood by proponents and public alike, we have to have consensus on how we structure our approach and implementation. But this is where the MaaS idea becomes fussy.
In Europe, the EU-sponsored MaaS Alliance is a public-private partnership. It describes MaaS thus: “MaaS is the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand. To meet a customer’s request, a MaaS operator facilitates a diverse menu of transport options, be they public transport, ride-, car- or bike-sharing, taxi or car rental/lease, or a combination thereof.
For the user, MaaS can offer added value through use of a single application to provide access to mobility, with a single payment channel instead of multiple ticketing and payment operations.
For its users, MaaS should be the best value proposition, by helping them meet their mobility needs and solve the inconvenient parts of individual journeys as well as the entire system of mobility services.”
The emphasis of the MaaS Alliance movement is on public transport services and government-sanctioned ride-sharing of cars, bicycles and other sponsored modes of transport. It is also clear that the aim of the MaaS Alliance and therefore MaaS in Europe is to provide “an alternative to the use of the private car that may be as convenient, more sustainable, help to reduce congestion and constraints in transport capacity”.
In the USA, Mobility as a Service America (MaaS America) is an association of government and private industry members who define MaaS as, “The delivery, through an integrated digital platform of all available modes of transport for seamless, infinitely adaptable, personal mobility services.” MaaS America further explains that all of this takes place in near-real time, predictively, wirelessly, securely, and with the end-user being unaware of the huge number of behind-the-scenes stakeholders, facilitators and interchanges.
"MaaS is a nascent concept. Its genesis is the result of a series of profound technological and societal shifts, some of which are continuing to evolve, and some of which are still emerging..."
MaaS America’s vision of MaaS looks to include all modes but also recognizes the continued importance and, indeed, in some geographic locations the indispensability, of private cars and vehicles.
Both the MaaS Alliance and MaaS America share much common ground. Both advocate a future vision of ‘mobility' rather than the past emphasis on ‘transportation’ and its individual modes or silos. MaaS is a departure from where most cities and societies are today, and from how mobility has thus far been delivered. Today’s transportation services typically do not have a digital platform for planning, booking or payment. MaaS will move us to a more person-centered mobility paradigm.
MaaS enables users to make end-to-end journeys by using a single app on their smartphones or portable/wearable devices. The enabling background technology is a digital platform that integrates trip planning, booking, electronic ticketing, near-real-time updating, and payment services across all modes of transport, public or private. It will bring transportation in line with the convenience and consumption choices that people enjoy in many other areas of their lives. In effect, the focus of a trip or journey is not the cobbling together of multiple but separate transportation modes on incremental links, but the integration of each link into a seamless, painless, door-to-door journey.
The breadth of that vision in Europe appears to be more limited than in North America. The MaaS Alliance appears to be emphasizing the abundant nature of public transport services. Its aim is to integrate these various transport links into a cohesive, digital application to help members collaborate through a shared work programme to address issues related to user needs and regulatory challenges, MaaS single market development, and technology issues. The emphasis on using public transport to reduce congestion and improve air quality and support environmental policy is the key to delivery of a thriving MaaS ecosystem.
In light of Europe’s population densities, geographic size, relatively short journey lengths and the relatively good availability of public transport, this makes sense.
Across the Atlantic, MaaS America’s emphasis on all modes of transport is the stand-out difference. MaaS America also focuses on cities and integrated urban transport, but it also includes private car trips and the integration of services related to car usage — tolling, managed lanes, parking, and other vehicle services such as refueling, and drive-thru services. MaaS America also includes integration of available urban and suburban public and private transport, and ride-sharing services for bicycles and cars.
Congestion management and/or environmental objectives are not mentioned by MaaS America or emphasized as they are by the MaaS Alliance. MaaS America thinks integration of the diverse modes of mobility, the private industry business case and the public acceptance of MaaS based on individual choice of the alternatives presented should make for a thriving MaaS ecosystem in each individual city and region.
Public policy on congestion management, air quality and environmental improvements to cities and urban regional approaches are separate initiatives best addressed by themselves and not confused with integrating mobility services. Ultimately, the arbiters of which mode or modes of transportation will best meet the needs of a personal mobility trip should be individual travelers and not public transportation planners or operators. Travelers’ declared filters and preferences for the fastest, least expensive, most reliable and predictable journeys should be the determinants because MaaS is not the initiator of demand management but is a complement to existing measures.
PRIDE, NO PREJUDICE
Any bias or government policy prejudice applied to the filtering of the available transportation options presented to the traveler is frowned upon by MaaS America. Congestion management measures such as congestion charging, parking restrictions, vehicle restrictions and road closures are seen as part of the equation or algorithm used in the MaaS application presenting trip options to the traveler. Environmental matters are also considered in the individual preferences and filtering based on type of private vehicle making the trip or nature of the trip itself.
For example, if the traveler owns an electric car, then the individual has already followed environmental policy and incentives to help improve air quality and the environment. As a zero emissions vehicle, zero emissions zones would not apply to that individual trip to the city center medical facility for medical treatment or screening. Likewise, congestion charges may not affect the A-to-B trip costs. If the trip, for example, is a trip to a department store in the city to pick up large or cumbersome packages, the nature of the trip may preclude usage of public transport and the need for cargo space in the trunk or boot of the individual’s car. The use of a delivery service vehicle that has an internal combustion engine may be worse for the environment and costlier to the individual than a zero emission vehicle.
Most of all, we have to accept that in some parts of North America, as in some other parts of the world, geographic size and the often near-absence of public transport options make private transport absolutely essential.
MaaS is a concept that should change the way we travel. The need for a clear, working and implementable definition is apparent, as well as recognition of geographical, social, economic and political differences across all countries and regions. As seen from the general differences between the MaaS Alliance and MaaS America, slight variations in the definitions, objectives and emphases can result in great differences in implementation.
However, MaaS appears to be an interesting value proposition demanded by the public, industry and government. How we reach the future MaaS ecosystem may be a meandering path… but it is certainly a path worth taking.
Jack Opiola is a vastly experienced transportation consultant based in Reston, Virginia, USA