By Jonathan Bray, director at the Urban Transport Group.
The hype around Mobility as a Service (MaaS) promises a groundbreaking transformation in how we plan and pay for our mobility needs - making it easier to travel in an agile, multi-modal way which offers an affordable alternative to private car use and ownership.
Often dubbed the ‘Netflix of transport’ by its advocates, MaaS brings together transport and mobility choices into a single digital platform, with options for pay-as-you-go or subscription packages.
The UK Government has recognised the potential of MaaS in its transport strategy and a committee of cross party MPs held an enquiry into how it might boost public transport, reduce congestion and improve air quality, concluding that MaaS scemes “have the potential to transform how people travel.”
The private sector is also getting in on the act, with companies like Uber offering MaaS deals. and with good reason too - ABI research from 2016 suggested that global MaaS revenues will exceed $1trillion (US) by 2030.
Yet despite the promise, can the hype match the reality? The Urban Transport Group’s new report identifies the key factors that could make or break MaaS.
First, is the economics. MaaS must provide an offer that customers find appealing, it must create an integrated platform which brings together competitor transport operators, and deliver all this at a price which competes with car ownership and makes a return for all the providers of all the elements of the MaaS offer – not easy to do unless either the public or private sector is prepared to stand behind the costs.
Then there are challenges around data. How can we resolve issues around ownership, sharing, privacy and resourcing of data? Important questions for those seeking to operate or get involved in MaaS schemes.
And finally, how might MaaS contribute to the wider public policy goals of cities, helping to make them the greener, healthier and more prosperous places people want to live, work and spend time in?
For example, will MaaS schemes encourage more active travel or more taxi use? Will they serve everyone or be focussed mainly on high income, tech savvy, city dwellers?
Cities, and their transport authorities, can play a key role in shaping this future. But they have choices to make on how to engage with MaaS, centred broadly around three options:
City region transport authorities could be either the MaaS operator or a pro-active participant in it.
This would allow them to ensure that MaaS works for consumers and public policy goals, but can present commercial risks and liabilities around the costs of developing, managing and administering such an offer.
They could take a stepped approach to MaaS, starting with existing resources such as smart ticketing, journey planning and real-time information to then build a platform for either public sector-led or private sector third parties to integrate new transport modes or new ticketing products.
This option risks uncertain and fragmented outcomes which may not meet wider public policy goals or customer needs.
A third option is for city regions to take no involvement in MaaS, and instead allow the private sector to lead.
This could result in a more innovative and competitive market of MaaS products and no direct commercial risk to the authority, but once again, could risk fragmented outcomes or exploitation by monopolies.
The reality is that city regions will take different approaches depending on their wider circumstances and aspirations.
The regulatory and legislative framework in which they operate (such as how much control they have over bus and rail) could also influence or restrict their ambitions.
And as for business fleets, the implications that will arise from MaaS are far from clear cut.
Is MaaS likely to eat into the use of company cars as employees instead access shared vehicles or even public transport (all via a digital platform) for their business trips? Will workers be encouraged by their companies to use alternative mobility options to fleet vehicles when making work journeys?
All of this is perhaps possible, but many commentators suspect this could be a gradual process happening across decades rather than overnight. And, like any business decision, considerations around cost, efficiency, and – increasingly – sustainability will play a key part in that choice.
With relatively few schemes in operation at a truly commercial scale, the outlook for MaaS is uncertain. What is perhaps more certain, is that cities regions and their transport bodies will have a decisive role to play in determining that future.