MOBILITY AS A SERVICE
Open and evolving
“Choosing optimism and openness is one of the most important policy opportunities of the 21st Century.” So says author Rufus Pollock in his book ‘The Open Revolution’; Edward Farrugia of the MaaS Alliance continues the theme, suggesting that openness is a key requisite for Mobility as a Service
Transport and the way we travel will not be spared from the adoption of digital technologies that have already transformed several other sectors. Smart mobility is not merely a buzzword and does not simply involve driverless cars.
Let us imagine a future where having a single transport account enables the user to hire an e-bike, board a train, find a shared ride, dash swiftly through traffic on a rented e-scooter and take a flight. This is not utopia; this is called Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
As technology gradually occupies a more prominent role in our lives, several consumers across the globe who are already well accustomed to the use of digital technology, feel frustrated at the fact Mobility as a Service is not yet available. Millions of commuters will change, or have started changing, their travelling habits, reflecting the ongoing changes in the transport field.
The increasing popularity of MaaS can be attested to by the interest shown by public authorities, companies and start-ups in Mobility as a Service. Both the public and the private sector are vying for a future where consumers can obtain complete information about their travel options and at the same time have the freedom to choose how they access and pay for their journeys. This approach is seen as an essential ingredient for a major shift away from the use of single-occupancy vehicles, thus enabling the adoption of electric and shared mobility solutions, intermixed with an increase in the levels of walking and cycling around our cities.
But Mobility as a Service, in its full scale, is only attainable if business models are moulded to be collaborative and open. This implies operators and service providers to work closely and collaborate, thus ensuring efficiency for the public interest rather the prevalence of aggressive business models. The ‘winner takes all’ approach has to be avoided in order for cities to not become clogged with underused vehicles and other means of shared transport.
Promotion of an open ecosystem has been an intrinsic part of the MaaS Alliance from its inception. For long, the transport sector has been more pro-business than pro-market, while in desired future market dynamism is supported by innovations and new partnerships. The ultimate aim of it all is to provide better services and a wider choice to the end user. That is why open data, open-minded policymaking and trust and collaboration are very important prerequisites.
“The ‘winner takes all’ approach has to be avoided in order for cities to not become clogged with underused vehicles and other means of shared transport”
The Open Mobility Conference 2019, organised by the MaaS Alliance and the TravelSpirit Foundation held in Brussels on 11 April was an opportunity to dive deeper into this hugely important topic and to agree on some concrete steps in the endeavour of an open ecosystem. Held at Kanal, a former car factory on the banks of the Senne and a stone’s throw away from one of the busiest boulevards of Brussels, the event featured several keynotes from industry leaders, lightning talks from frontrunners, panel discussions on the next steps, and interactive workshops to generate ideas and actions. The main questions revolved around the creation of new mobility services that can be easily deployed, scaled and integrated seamlessly with existing provision and other new mobility services and what an open ecosystem looks like and what opportunities it creates. The conference was attended by a sell-out audience of over 150 people from across Europe, North America, Asia and Africa.
MaaS platforms can only thrive on openness of service and data. When it comes to the effort entailed for the different stakeholders to access and share data, a few major barriers still exist today that prevent transport providers, MaaS operators, the end users, public authorities and ultimately society from seizing the full potential of integrated mobility services in the MaaS ecosystem.
The first precondition for an emergence and integration of various transports services is the availability of relevant data sets in digital, machine readable, non-proprietary format. In order to build real multiplayer, multi-option market platforms the service providers should provide each other access to essential information in digital format, including routes, timetables, stops, prices and accessibility information. Further on, ticketing and reservation system interfaces should be accessible for other service providers.
Sanneke Mulderink, founder and owner of Dutch MaaS platform Tranzer argued in her keynote presentation at Open Mobility Conference that, “all modes of transport, either financed by the public or private and operating in the public space must be offered on a non-discriminatory basis to MaaS providers”. According to this principle, should a service make use of public infrastructure then it should be open in the way it works with the city. Also the usage data, shared between provides and cities, could be a very useful tool in helping to plan and regulate the transport system as a whole.
“All modes of transport, either financed by the public or private and operating in the public space must be offered on a non-discriminatory basis to MaaS providers ”
There is an ongoing effort to create an open and user-centric ecosystem of mobility, and the effort is particularly challenging since there is no single template or solution that dictates how it can be designed and which can be applied universally. The MaaS Alliance have contributed to this discussion with its recent vision paper “Recommendations on a User-Centric Approach for MaaS”, giving some inspirations to aim towards ever-improving levels of user experience, widening applicability of MaaS services and more inclusive, sustainable and vital mobility ecosystems and economies. Behind a simple app providing a personalised and unique mobility solution lies much more than meets the eye.
Public authorities play a key role in this sense. Constant transport innovations have rendered open mobility and accessibility a pertinent public policy issue. Their role in the creation of an open ecosystem should meet the demands of citizens and strike a balance between the role and abilities of both public and private mobility provides. While entry to the mobility market has typically happened via slow public procurement procedures, nowadays new services are appearing on the streets seemingly overnight. New applications start trending even faster, leaving cities amazed but often more confused than their residents. With so many different players involved in the MaaS model, the importance of cooperation between stakeholders, public and private, cannot be stressed enough. A common ground within the private sector, which includes mobility service providers, vehicle manufacturers, IT companies and telecommunications, is needed as much as a common vision with local managing authorities, such as traffic management centres or public transport authorities.
Antwerp is definitely one of the front-runners when it comes to visionary cities working towards smarter mobility in vivid public-private-partnerships. Vice-Mayor Koen Kennis, who is also responsible for transport, speaking at the Open Mobility Conference, said: “Antwerp is a living lab for smart ideas on mobility of individuals, but also for logistical and maritime challenges. As a city we reach out to all innovators working in this field. We are very excited to support calls for a new Open Ecosystem approach for transportation. This will open up the market for all mobility services all over the world and will break some local monopoly control. This means decoupling services (taxis, scooters, etc.) from their individual apps. It means creating new market opportunities for mobility providers to enter underserved markets.”
“While entry to the mobility market has typically happened via slow public procurement procedures, nowadays new services are appearing on the streets seemingly overnight”
As much as it is important to be aware of the need for an open “Mobility as a Service”, we need to recognise and acknowledge that barriers exist to an open MaaS. These hindrances are not in technology, but rather in business models and political will to accommodate and integrate new means of transport. Transport companies have to be ready to open up to competition and share business data with what were once seen as competitors in the field.
The path towards openness is not straightforward and certainly not free from impediments and complications. As highlighted previously, there needs to be a political will coupled with providers who enable people to complete a journey while swapping modes of transport easily. If we really want to have open Mobility as a Service, we need to bring together public authorities and private enterprises to share their experiences and expertise. This is no easy task but with collaboration and negotiation this symbiosis can be achieved.
The Mobility as a Service (MaaS) Alliance is a public-private partnership, hosted by ERTICO-ITS Europe, creating the foundations for a common approach to MaaS, unlocking the economies of scale needed for successful implementation and take-up of MaaS in Europe and beyond. The main goal is to facilitate a single, open market and full deployment of MaaS services.
Edward Farrugia is Communications Officer at MaaS Alliance.