By Jonathan Bray, Director, Urban Transport Group, UK
If you’ve ever attended a transport conference, read a strategy document on urban mobility or downloaded the latest mobile app to navigate a city, the chances are you’ll have come across Mobility as a Service (MaaS). The concept–schemes which provide access to information on, and payment for, transport options via a single digital platform–has been the subject of intense debate about the future of urban mobility. But can it truly ever be a ‘MaaS movement’?
Before attempting to answer that question, it’s important to understand the context. The emergence of MaaS is something that is not occurring in isolation–it sits within the wider transition to a ‘smart mobility future’, defined by some as ‘connected, autonomous, electric and shared’. Indeed, MaaS is part of the move towards the sharing economy, with the growth of car and ride-sharing often forming an essential component of any MaaS offer.
Here in the UK, MaaS is being taken seriously by politicians, with the government recognising its potential in its transport strategy and a committee of cross party MPs holding an enquiry into how it might boost public transport, reduce congestion and improve air quality, as well as how to overcome the barriers to further implementation.
It’s also attracted the attention of venture capital, with companies like Uber and CityMapper getting in on the act to offer MaaS deals. And with good reason too–ABI research from 2016 suggested that global MaaS revenues will exceed US$1 trillion by 2030.
But despite the promising outlook for MaaS, its future is far from clear cut, with three key factors set to decide its success or failure.
Firstly, the economic models which underpin MaaS schemes will determine how competitively priced and popular schemes are. If MaaS is to take off, then it must either be commercially viable, or it will require some form of cross subsidy either from the private or public sector. The relatively rapid rise and fall of some dockless bike schemes and demand responsive bus services emphasise how quickly the market can make or break fledging mobility solutions.
There’s then the extent to which issues around the ownership, sharing and resourcing of data are resolved. What safeguards are placed upon data by its custodians, and can data managed by private sector companies be shared because of commercial considerations?
Finally, the extent to which wider environmental, social and public health goals are built into MaaS schemes will determine whether they contribute to making cities less congested, more inclusive, greener and healthier places.
City regions and their transport authorities therefore have choices to make on the role they might play when it comes to MaaS schemes in their areas, and these choices could shape the final outcome for MaaS. There is a sliding scale of potential engagement which includes three options.
One is where city region transport authorities are either the MaaS operator or a pro-active participant. This model could allow them to ensure that MaaS is a compelling consumer offer whilst delivering a range of wider public policy goals. However, there are commercial risks and liabilities around the costs of developing, managing and administering such an offer.
Another option is for cities to take a stepped approach to MaaS, starting with existing resources such as journey planning, smart ticketing and real-time information to then build a platform that would then allow for different approaches, either public sector led or providing the basis for app developers and private sector third parties to integrate new transport modes or new ticketing products. However, this risks uncertain and fragmented outcomes which may not meet wider public policy goals or meet customer needs.
And finally, they may choose to take no involvement in MaaS, instead allowing the private sector to lead. This could result in a more innovative and competitive market of MaaS products and with no direct commercial risk to the authority but once again, risks fragmented outcomes, or conversely exploitation by monopolies, which work against both the consumer and wider public interest.
It is up to each city (and transport authority) to decide which role to take, but in the UK, many authorities will be influenced (or hampered) by the wider regulatory and legislative framework in which they work, such as bus deregulation or rail privatisation.
Ultimately, the future of MaaS remains undecided. It could be a private or public sector monopoly or a competitive market; a system that steers people towards car use or away from them; a concept which makes travelling easier for all, despite their income, disability or location or it could make mobility easier for tech-savvy, city centre dwellers and harder for those who are already excluded and marginalised.
The Urban Transport Group’s report, MaaS movement? Issues and options on Mobility as a Service for city region transport authorities, is available to download here