Towards an Ecosystem of Integrated Urban Mobility Services

Urban transport plays a fundamental role in meeting the objectives of economic competitiveness, social cohesion and sustainable growth. An efficient transportation system must be the heart of every successful city. The fixation with building and expanding transport infrastructure over long distances will not solve all the challenges related to urban transport. Instead, travel times increase, productivity decreases and the general quality of life declines. Planners and decision-makers are beginning to acknowledge that mobility is not just about developing transport infrastructure and services, but about overcoming the social, economic, political and physical barriers to movement. Urban mobility, therefore, is not necessarily about transport but access. Access to core social services like health, education and employment opportunities. There is a widespread acceptance that mobility in urban areas will be different from today. New concepts such as mobility as a service (MaaS) have gained traction over the years as possible solutions to varying urban mobility challenges. MaaS is seen as an enabler to integrate different urban systems to realise inclusive, efficient and productive cities. The concept exploits the benefits of technology-driven transport services to improve access and efficiency of the existing transportation networks. MaaS is a combination of public and private transportation services within a region that provides integrated, optimal and people-centred travel options, enables end-to-end journeys on a single payment platform, and aims to achieve key public equity objectives. Implementation of MaaS in cities impacts travel demand modelling, supply-side analysis and business model innovation within the transport sector.

What are the key ingredients to fully integrate mobility as a service within a city?

Cities evolve differently due to cultural economic and historical factors. Some cities have functioning and regulated public transport systems, others do not have formal public transport services – each have public transport systems at different stages of development. The ingredients to fully realise MaaS are very fluid. However, Examining the characteristics of MaaS pilots in different cities highlights certain core themes.

Firstly, to integrate MaaS into a city requires  a wide range of transport modes. This implies cities must have a functional public transport system offering several modes including but not limited to mass transit (trains, buses), non-motorized transport facilities (pedestrian walkways, bicycle lanes), carsharing and technology-enabled services like ride-hailing.

Secondly, there needs to be a platform provider. MaaS being a technology-enabled solution relies on digitally integrating transport modes available in a city. This integration of information requires an enabler (often referred to as a platform provider). The platform provides standardised mobility data for users to make better travel choices. Booking, scheduling and payments are processed on this platform consisting of multiple actors. This requires a close collaboration between key actors and stakeholders in the ecosystem. A key characteristic of a MaaS platform is a single payment point for all mobility related purchases. This means that for cities to fully integrate mobility as a service, transport operators and service providers should have e-ticketing and e-payment systems with which to integrate into a single payment point for riders.

Congestion and traffic flow are a common challenge that cities are constantly battling with. To decrease the negative effects of high traffic introducing financial and behavioural incentives to new mobility patterns and behaviours like ridesharing can accelerate the integration of MaaS into a city.

More importantly, is designing, operationalising and testing MaaS pilot projects. This means both the public and private sector must come to the forefront in promoting mobility innovation platforms and projects to test how appealing MaaS solutions are and the social benefits of the new technologies. This requires the provision of appropriate physical infrastructure and strong financial and political support.

What are the barriers to achieving success?

The barriers are multilayered and are reflective of the fabric of the respective cities. Firstly, I think the relatively car-centric culture has not fully acknowledged the true cost of car ownership socially, economically and environmentally. We are still navigating our way through planning and managing cities in ways that try to build congestion away by making roads wider and wider. This is a challenge, but one that is being tackled by many forward-thinking cities across the world. Secondly is the challenge of promoting collaboration in MaaS ecosystems and networks. Outside of the growth of most on demand transport services, several cases of resistance from already existing operators have been reported. Developing and enacting a new paradigm will face some resistance. In addition, there are several inter-organizational barriers which if overcome will foster collaborative planning approaches and new efficient ways of offering transport services. Which brings me to the third challenge of regulation/legislation. There are no clear linkages between regulatory, legislative and policy areas and the collective vision required to fully realize institutional conditions that foster MaaS developments. Evidently some cities have struggled to regulate ride hailing services while in others resistance has been largely from traditional taxi operators. Lastly is a challenge related to the scalability of MaaS solutions and business models. Understanding what motivates customers in different segments and creating incentives for sustainable travel behaviour remains a challenge.

How do we recognize success?

The success of MaaS can be interpreted in varying perspectives depending with parameters one wants to observe. Since MaaS is largely a theoretical concept, evaluation and analysis of the initiatives that arise will be necessary to guide and accelerate developments. Reflecting on the key ingredients suggests various social, economic, cultural and environmental metrics with which we can benchmark the performance and success of MaaS as it is implemented. The transition from current travel patterns to MaaS will require major changes both for individuals and society. In order better to understand what both impedes and attracts individuals to new travel behaviours, it is necessary, together with selected traveller groups, to test out new services with various combinations of mobility, as well as disseminate knowledge about what the new mobility services can entail. Individuals tend to stick to habits and norms, which should be studied in connection with various combinations of mobility services.

To understand and monitor whether the MaaS initiatives are fulfilling transport policy goals a framework is required for evaluating the success of MaaS programs. This includes observing changes in perception of usage of public, shared and active forms of travel. For example a significant reduction in  car ownership and the number of vehicles on the roads – consequently easing the pressure on existing transportation networks to enable better traffic and capacity management.

In summary, success can be recognized by measuring the increase in accessibility to a city’s core social services, a decrease in single occupancy vehicles, an increase in public transport use and reduction in travel times. Therefore setting clear planning objectives for MaaS initiatives is not only helpful in assessing and quantifying the effectiveness of such initiatives like improved customer experience, it also helps with direct investment, appropriate choice of technology and level of regulation.

Therefore setting clear planning objectives for MaaS initiatives is not only helpful in assessing and quantifying the effectiveness of such initiatives like improved customer experience, it also helps with direct investment, appropriate choice of technology and level of regulation.