MaaS Understanding

Reminiscing back to the summer, we took a family trip to Aquazilla – an obstacle course on the water just off of the main Montréal island. With my two sons we walked 10 minutes to the local metro station to get a train direct to the water park; then hired a Bixi bike (North America’s first large-scale bike sharing system) to head to another part of the island. Recognizing our sons were far too tired to walk or bike back home, we caught a ride-hailing service home. In an ideal world – this multi-mode transport would be personalized, organized by one central platform, made with one payment and would encourage me take the greenest mobility option available.

Cities are seeing an unprecedented shift away from personally-owned transport towards mobility solutions consumed as a service – Mobility as a Service (MaaS). This was a consistent theme discussed throughout the recent LA CoMotion leadership conference a couple of weeks ago. Like most upcoming terms there are nuanced and differing understandings and definitions – but the broad remit of MaaS covers: an on-demand mobility solution that connects users to multiple modes of transport and integrates and personalizes registration, booking and invoicing.

MaaS is a response to a distinct need to combine transport services – public and private – into one point of call. I liken it to the concept of combining household internet, mobile and landline services and locking them into one payment. Or the difference between watching a single movie via Apple compared to watching it through Netflix or Amazon Prime. One subscription – a selection of on-demand movies, tv-shows and music. But unlike Netflix, MaaS is not a service that is as easily internationally marketable and scalable. While we see pioneering cities leading the way in Los Angeles, Hanover and Helsinki – what works well in some cities probably won’t work as well in others.

What we do know is there are commonalities in the drivers for and forces against MaaS.

The benefits are something almost everyone can turn and say – yes this is good – let’s do it! Firstly, it is user-focussed. Done well, MaaS simplifies user’s experiences by providing tailored options and solutions with different price points, encouraging physical activity (walking or cycling) and delivered in real-time. It moves people away from a sole source of mobility – cars.

One of the key performance indicators is the reduction of personal vehicle ownership and ultimately reduction in the number of cars on the road. In addition to the goal of reducing carbon emissions by moving people into public transport, bikes, e-scooters and giving people more options than only sitting in a car (and traffic). The next level benefit of less vehicles on the road is the ability for cities to look differently at how we use streets and car parks. If less people are driving, there is a reduction in demand for car lanes and car parks and more incentives to turn those giant asphalt platforms into parks and recreational activities (for one example).

We’re on board with the concept of MaaS and its obvious benefits. Through this editorial, we wanted to explore why MaaS isn’t instantly scaleable – why it will take some cities longer to implement than others and why some cities will be more successful than others.

There is a consideration and risk of moving people away from public transport in favor of car sharing, ride hailing or other private mobility solutions. Public transport needs to remain at the heart of any future mobility solution. Why? Public Transport is often the most effective transport route along major corridors (imagine trying to quickly navigate London traffic in a car, instead of taking the tube). Good public transport is accessible, no matter the socio-economic status of a neighbourhood, and overcomes the digital divide. In addition the hypothetical consequences of reduction in public transport passengers means a reduction in demand and a reduction in supply.

Now don’t get my wrong, MaaS isn’t a war on cars – it is about the integration and options for the users. And with that integration (of public and private providers) comes the need to share data, and moreover share customers. And this could be the biggest challenge yet – the sharing of data between public stakeholders is logical but when there are commercial attributes to a relationship – will private providers be willing to share data and customers? And how does invoicing and transfer of money work so additional costs aren’t passed onto the users. There needs to be an incentive and mutual benefit for everyone involved.

Which leads me to the most obvious big question –  who owns this big point of call – the single platform that brings together public and private mobility services? Is it local or national governments, the private mobility sector or a separate third party provider?

I haven’t met anyone yet that says MaaS is a terrible concept – the benefits are clear and valuable for all stakeholders. We know keeping public transport central is an essential element. We know sharing data and customer bases is a critical element. Regardless of what city we are in – these are common threads that successful MaaS will need to acknowledge. As MaaS progresses, NewCities will be there watching, contributing to the conversation and helping to share and shape best practice so cities, organizations and customers can learn from each other, and ultimately we can help create better cities for everyone.

We have worked with our global strategic partner, Transdev, to curate a careful selection of opinion editorials about the benefits and challenges of MaaS. We look forward to hearing your thoughts too.