Bringing MaaS to the UK

  • 2018-05-17 09:00
  • Rachelle Harry

The publicly funded Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) is developing Mobility as a Service (MaaS) in the UK. In this exclusive interview, TSC’s principal technologists Alan Peters and James Datson (who is also MaaS lead) discuss the implementation challenges and why autonomous vehicles will only be a success if they are used with MaaS

TSC is part of the MaaS Alliance – a European organization set up for companies interested in developing common standards for MaaS and focused on addressing problems early, to make sure that Europe is central to the concept’s development.

 “TSC was funded by the UK’s Department for Transport, which wanted to work out exactly what MaaS could bring to the UK, what the risks are if it is not set up correctly, and what we need to be aware of in its implementation,” says James Datson.

The elements of MaaS

“TSC is supporting two MaaS projects in the UK,” says Datson. “Perhaps the best known one is in Birmingham, West Midlands, where we are involved in the deployment of MaaS Global’s Whim service. Our role in the project is to support the local authority [Transport for West Midlands] in building the so-called MaaS ecosystem and, most importantly, to develop an evaluation strategy to ensure that the impacts of MaaS can be captured and learned from.”

 There are several elements to the MaaS ecosystem. On the top level is the consumer, who uses the different types of MaaS transportation. The next level is the MaaS operator – a single company that provides consumers with all their aggregated transport needs. The MaaS operator does the legwork in getting service providers on board to provide MaaS as a one-stop-shop service for the consumer. Under the Maas operators, there are a number of organizations that work together to provide logistics to allow the MaaS operators to deliver journeys at the right times and prices. Next, there are vehicle providers, who deliver the vehicles (bicycles, taxis, trains, etc) that enable consumers to make their journeys. 

 The structure of the MaaS ecosystem may seem logical, but its elements do not necessarily operate together or alongside each other in everyday circumstances. “The interesting thing for me is that the elements in the MaaS ecosystem are all very different types of companies and they don’t necessarily speak the same language,” says Datson. “At TSC we host cross-party workshops that bring people and companies – from different cities – together to discuss and debate MaaS, and to ensure that they are all talking about the same thing at the same time.” 

 Aside from Finland, where the MaaS concept was born and where it now operates as a full service in many cities, MaaS is still in its infancy. In the UK, TSC is acting as a transformer for businesses in the MaaS ecosystem who wish to get involved in the process of implementation. “Many innovation teams are familiar with ‘technology readiness levels’,” says Datson. “TSC continues to help innovators bridge the so-called ‘valley of death’, which must be navigated when taking a product from a concept stage to commercialization. 

 “TSC sees the importance of de-risking business model change by supporting cooperation between stakeholders in the MaaS ecosystem. We work to help bring organizations together and work through business case readiness levels so that the risks can be reduced. This in turn breaks down the barriers to MaaS innovation.”

Essential technology

As it encourages debates, challenges transportation norms and supports new MaaS projects, TSC eagerly anticipates new transportation technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). Alan Peters, principal technologist at TSC, believes that in the future CAVs will improve MaaS.

“Autonomous vehicles have real potential,” says Peters. “I speak in particular about SAE level 5 autonomous vehicles, which will have V2X capabilities, because this is the type of vehicle that passengers would be traveling in – perhaps while sleeping or working – but not actually driving. 

“There are predictions that autonomous vehicles will make congestion worse, because they will make journeys more comfortable and convenient, thereby encouraging people to make more and longer trips.” 

Cue MaaS, which has the potential to leverage CAVs by bypassing the anticipated high costs – and potentially slow sales – of privately owned CAVs when they finally reach the market. 

“We must address this potential CAV congestion by moving away from the traditional private ownership model, which we currently use for vehicles, to a service model,” says Peters. “This is what we’re talking about with MaaS – it allows the consumer to buy their time in a vehicle in terms of minutes and they will be able to select different sized vehicles for different types of journey. 

“MaaS as an umbrella concept can work well without autonomous vehicles. But I think that if autonomous vehicles are to become a real success, they need to have MaaS.”

The ultimate vision for TSC is that the creation of a hassle-free MaaS ecosystem in the UK over the next few years will in turn create the perfect environment for the fast and sustainable deployment of fully autonomous vehicles, thereby ensuring they will be a force for good, not simply extra cars causing even more congestion.

 Source: Rachelle Harry, for Intertraffic World Magazine 2018

 

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