MaaS: The Challenge Isn’t the Technology – It’s the People

It feels like we are all mad for MaaS right now – and it appears that the excitement is well-founded, given the benefits that we expect to create. New technology is delivering new travel options like never before, options that promise to be faster, cheaper, more convenient … but we need the smarts in order to make things happen. What looks like a simple app interface to the average person, represents many, many hours of complicated development to build a complete, connected series of multimodal travel options, payment options with an intuitive app interface. Then they need to work perfectly together – all the time.

“What looks like a simple app interface to the average person, represents many, many hours of complicated development to build a complete, connected series of multimodal travel options, payment options with an intuitive app interface.”

These technical challenges receive significant attention and can all be overcome with talent and perseverance. There are plenty of smart people and companies in the world after all. The more nebulous element that stands in the way of fast uptake of new services is people.

Australia’s biggest MaaS-related survey to date – Mobility as a Service – Customer Insights and opportunities (led by ITS Australia and run through iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre) offers some insights on potential users.

While it is true that the younger demographics have more familiarity with MaaS-like services such as ride sharing, there is no fully integrated MaaS solution currently available in Australia. Some companies are pushing hard for such integrated offerings – such as Cubic Transportation Systems with its NextCity platform – but the public’s experience is limited for the time-being. For many, it is likely that the ITS Australia survey was the first real contact that many people have had with the concept.

In many ways the survey’s results were not terribly surprising. As you would expect from technology-driven generations, the youngsters amongst us are the keenest to use MaaS for their transport needs. Forty percent of those under 30 years of age would use this means of transport. While this is good, I suspect it would be a lot higher were services already in existence with the benefits on public display.

I can only hope that this would also encourage those in older generations to also embrace the convenience of MaaS. According to the survey, the interest in such services drops dramatically for the over 65s – a (growing) demographic that could derive significant freedom and time benefits from integrated offerings that don’t require them to drive.

The outer suburban dwellers in Australia’s increasingly sprawling cities could also be big winners with MaaS. When you consider that 62 percent of people in outer suburbs of Melbourne (our fastest growing city) do not have access to public transport currently (ref: Infrastructure Victoria), filling the transport gaps becomes critical in order to avoid people becoming isolated in far flung corners of our cities.

So how do we get people on board?

While MaaS can offer good value for money (tick!), convenience also appears to be key. A recent presentation I saw from Cubic’s Tom Walker (VP Asia Pacific) highlighted an interesting fact about Sydney’s Fast Manly ferry service. The service offers its own payment system – effectively a travel card for use on that service only. Once it was integrated into the wider Opal card system, usage of the company run travel card dropped dramatically as people used their Opal cards – even though Opal was more expensive. People will pay – at least a little – for extra convenience.

Obviously convenience is not everybody’s principal objective. There will always be varying degrees of price sensitivity. But the main point is that we need to understand people’s motivations well to make sure that there is public education that supports wide adoption. And the education needs to come from a range of sources – governments at all levels, and the companies providing the services.

So yes, let’s ramp up the pace of change in our transport industry and catch Australia up with other countries that already offer much more advanced integrated MaaS solutions. But let’s also make sure that we take the time to understand the motivations of the most important element – the users. Let’s not even settle for the 40 percent best case scenario uptake. Let’s work together to generate interest and excitement for people of all ages about a transport option that will enhance everyone’s life with flexible, cost-effective travel that frees up our clogged roads.

Further reading:

Mobility as a Service: does Australia want it?
MaaS and On-Demand Transport – Consumer Research and Report