The potential for Mobility as a Service (MaaS) to change the way in which we travel has been a hot topic of discussion for the last decade. Neil Johnstone, Dr Alistair McInroy and Bob McQueen believe that now is the time for MaaS to realise that potential.
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is an interesting term. We like it because it emphasises the need to deliver service, and also clearly states the purpose, which is to provide mobility. (It could be said that accessibility may be even more important than mobility but that’s a discussion for another day.)
It may just be semantics, but mobility infers the ability to make more trips, while accessibility addresses the ease or difficulty to get from origin to destination The possibilities for offering MaaS have gained worldwide attention over the past few years, so it’s worth taking a look at what it’s all about.
Firstly, let’s address the question of what exactly is Mobility as a Service? Unfortunately, there seems to be no generally accepted definition for the term. It seems that the term is used by different people depending on their backgrounds and the particular solution that they are affiliated with.
For example, an automobile manufacturer may consider that MaaS is a range of innovative business models for buying vehicles or having access to the use of a vehicle. Transit agencies may consider MaaS to be a technologically enabled way to promote the use of transit, while micro-mobility operators would feel the same way about promoting the use of electric scooters and electric bicycles.
It seems that the term MaaS is used by different people depending on their backgrounds and the particular solution that they are affiliated with
Our favourite definition of the term is a smart phone app that makes travellers aware of all the possible choices for a particular trip at a particular time. Information regarding the quality and characteristics of each choice is also provided including modal choice, interchanges, total trip time, trip time reliability, total cost of the trip as a percentage of household income, and the carbon impact of the choice. Multimodal trip chain choices should address the need to preserve interchanges between modes and allow for spontaneous travel making decisions.
A WIDER FOCUS
It is important to note that while the focus is on mobility, MaaS has wider implications for energy efficiency, environmental preservation, and information technology.
Whatever the context, however, it is all about people and choice. In addition to being aware of travel choices it is important that travellers understand the consequences of the trip choice in terms of safety, efficiency, carbon footprint and equity.
From an equity perspective it is important to take steps to maximise the travellers’ ability to accept choices. This includes consideration of trip purpose and the characteristics of the traveller. For example, if the traveller is going to a huge out-of-town electrical store to buy a big-screen TV, then the offer of the use of an electric scooter may not be acceptable. Travel choices should also consider the travel context: is the planned trip in an urban area or a rural area, for example? Of course, the ability to make the return journey is also important, along with prevailing weather conditions.
From an equity perspective it is important to take steps to maximise the travellers’ ability to accept choices. This includes consideration of trip purpose and the characteristics of the traveller
BEYOND THE CAR
One of the main reasons to offer MaaS is to address the simple fact that at the moment, the simplest travel choice is to use the private car. It is what we refer to as the No Need To Think (NNTT or N2T2) option. As the traveller becomes aware of the choices available, there is a challenge to choose the best option. This requires good decision support for the traveller and may even require special training for the traveller (reference transport for humans).
In addition to providing Mobility as a Service, there is a need to provide supporting tools to ensure that good choices are made. Which leads onto another choice, namely the decision for public agencies to invest in MaaS in the first place.
In addition to providing Mobility as a Service, there is a need to provide supporting tools to ensure that good choices are made
INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
There are many instances in the past where an investment has been made in a new technology-supported service and when asked after the implementation about the rationale for the investment, the answer is something along the lines of “it seemed like a good idea at the time”.
There are a number of important outcomes that MaaS can support. These include improving travel safety, increasing the efficiency of the transport process by making sure that the best choices are being made, maximising the chances that the traveller will have a pleasurable experience, minimising the carbon footprint of the trip choice, and ensuring that services are made available on an equitable basis.
Having decided upon an investment in Mobility as a Service because of one of these objectives, or more likely and number of these objectives, then the next question is how much should be spent.
When we think about this subject, we think about an imaginary conversation between a mobility subject matter expert and a senior politician. The expert would expect to be asked “I want to improve the efficiency of transport in my city by getting more people to use transit, what should I invest in, how much should I spend and what outcomes can expect” for this particular question. Before advising on a particular investment option the expert would ask the politician to define how much they are prepared to pay for a percentage improvement in the objective function.
For example, how many dollars are you prepared to spend for every 1% shift in modal use from private car to transit? The expert can, of course, advise on the benefit cost of this based on published data, and previous implemented experiences. This will enable the politician to make an informed judgement. Setting expectations along these lines is vital to ensure adequate funding for mobility as a service.
How many dollars are you prepared to spend for every 1% shift in modal use from private car to transit?
A BESPOKE SERVICE
MaaS is also an interesting application of technology to transport, with a particular capability to customise the service to the intended consumer. This addresses the question of equity head-on as the ultimate solution to equitable transport services is the customisation of such services to the individual. Not only can service be delivered using a smartphone app, but that same app can also gather data regarding the traveller’s experience, needs and characteristics. The ability for a MaaS app to support a two-way dialogue with that traveller is a particularly powerful thing.
The last question that we want to address in this article is who should finance, design, build and operate MaaS services. There are strong arguments for both public and private sector involvement.
Public sector involvement is required to ensure fairness and to ensure that public sector transport objectives are being effectively addressed. Private sector involvement is valuable because many services are provided by the private sector and experience and expertise in providing consumer services definitely resides in the private sector.
Public sector involvement is required to ensure fairness and to ensure that public sector transport objectives are being effectively addressed
This sparks an interesting thought – should MaaS be treated as a startup enterprise with a greater focus on delivering outcomes instead of short-term financial sustainability, with Burn Rate instead of profit used as a Key Performance Indicator?
Perhaps the best answer is somewhere in the middle with a partnership between the public and the private sector, enabling MaaS to be implemented effectively and efficiently. With the public sector adopting a partnership and advocacy role and the private sector providing sufficient initial investment, or fuel, to enable the MaaS “rocket” to launch. MaaS is immature and like other similar initiatives it needs to be fostered.
THE PAST INFORMS THE FUTURE
An important lesson we have learned from the past, related to traveller information services is the inefficiency of public and private sectors implementing their own solutions without cooperation. This can lead to suboptimal results on both sides, where the private sector does not realise in an efficient market for MaaS to the public sector competing activities. The public sector also does not achieve success due to inexperience in lack of experience and expertise in the delivery of consumer products and services. A good partnership would enable public and private sectors to support each other to achieve public sector objectives and support the creation of new markets.
MaaS is a fascinating concept that has considerable potential, now it’s time to put the arrangements in place to ensure that it’s properly funded
MaaS is a fascinating concept that has considerable potential, now it’s time to put the arrangements in place to ensure that it’s properly funded, objectives are clearly defined, and the appropriate public and private roles are clearly stated. The price for getting this right is more efficient transport saving time, lives, and money. No Need To Think (NNTT) options can be extended beyond the private car to many forms of transport.
Neil Johnstone is founder of Consult-NJ.
Dr Alistair McInroy is CEO of Technology Scotland.
Bob McQueen is founder of Bob McQueen & Associates