November 8, 2021

MaaS is blossoming to give people the freedom of mobility

The incessant expansion of digitalisation, the emergence of the shared economy and the spread of innumerable platforms. These are the three main events that have triggered the development of Mobility as a Service in the past years, inducing the development of new business urban mobility models.

These changes in society have lead us to the present moment, where Mobility as a Service has a mission to accomplish, and it is not a particularly easy one. Providing people with the freedom of mobility in the new era establishes a huge challenge, but companies applying the MaaS model are already pursuing this goal. We are still in the early days of Mobility as a Service across the globe, but some European cities are taking the lead. This model seems to have matched especially well with some medium sized cities that offer the perfect characteristics for its development: a solid public transport system, the increase in the citizen’s use of digital devices, an open-minded government and new mobility operators with an agile regulatory framework.

For those of you who do not know what MaaS consists of, here is a brief summary:

  • MaaS makes the wide range of mobility offer available to citizens in an optimal way. The combination of different transport modes that go from the most traditional ones (bus, train) to the most modern (scooters or on demand shuttles) create efficient and more sustainable routes that lead to a decrease in the use of private vehicles.
  • Through the integration of all transport services in just one platform, the suggestion of multimodal routes, the increased accessibility to all modes of transport and the real time information, the MaaS model manages to fulfill the user’s needs to the maximum.
  • The application suggests a series of routes according to the user’s commuting preferences reducing traditional pain points such as: validations, delays, congestion or cost, putting the user at the centre of the transportation system.
  • The customer can conveniently plan, book and pay using this one platform.
Photo by Rasheed Kemy | Unsplash

What would cities around the world resemble to if MaaS managed to extend its core values in the years ahead? In summary, all transport networks from different providers would be connected and the user would not have to care anymore about different tools or validation systems. The offer would be totally adapted to his or her preferences, and there would be access to a wide range of possibilities to commute depending on the customer’s specific needs. In addition, the reduction of single occupied vehicles in highly densified cities would be considerable, and pollution levels would be minimised. These changes would lead to a disruption in mobility patterns that would have a meaningful impact on public policy goals.

So what’s an example? A MaaS application would we able to combine a public bus with a cab or ride hailing service in order to create an integrated route, showing the customer all possible timetables. This would not only save the customer a great deal of time. The user would also benefit economically, as taking a cab or shared vehicle directly to a specific destination considerably increases the cost of a journey. In other words, the MaaS platform would optimise the passenger’s route offering faster travel options that would have never been suggested before, and that are now possible due to the extended capillarity in the transport network provided by MaaS platforms.

Cities with these characteristics might seem to only exist in movies. However, a recent report from Juniper Research estimating $405 million in revenues for the ‘Mobility as a Service’ sector reaching 52$ billion by 2027 has awoken the interest of a wide spectrum of mobility players, that are now taking into consideration the deployment of MaaS solutions for the upcoming years.

By adapting the Maas model, cities would be able to provide people with the freedom that car ownership gave them in a different way. For this to happen, trust needs to be built in order for people to alter their mindsets. This change of paradigm in the mobility context would solve the serious issues of lack of sustainability, inefficiency and disconnection that the transport sector is experiencing nowadays. It is necessary for public and private entities to start working together to encourage the expansion of MaaS to bigger cities and beyond Europe.

What is Mobility As a Service’s backbone?

A solid transport system

To address the Mobility As a Service challenge, cities need to rely on a stable public transport system. According to the American Public Transportation Association, every dollar invested in public transport brings four times that in economic impact. The implementation of MaaS solutions only makes sense if citizens can count on services at a cost that is as competitive as driving a private car, and only public transport can accomplish this.

The positive benefits a solid public transportation system can unlock in a city are uncountable. In the first place, it improves people’s quality of life by optimising their daily routes to different destinations, allowing them to safe time, reducing the carbon footprint and therefore causing less environmental impact. In the second place, it reduces traffic congestion, promoting healthier lifestyles in less air-polluted cities which is essential considering over 90% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds safe levels. Public transport also supports tourism which generates a mayor business development and promotes a more equal society. It gives all citizens an affordable opportunity to move, benefiting cities’ local development.

But public transport systems have tough competition. The MaaS model along with the collaboration of the different stakeholders involved is pursuing the goal of it being society’s first option when commuting.

As a matter of fact, in some cities measures have already been put in place to reduce the use of private vehicles and promote public transport. For instance, in Tokyo there are only 5 parking spaces for every 100 cars and the government has established a requirement that citizens have to comply before they get a car licence: to demonstrate they have access to a parking space. Another example is the country of Hong Kong. The high investment in the development of an efficient public transport system has meant that most residents live less than one kilometre away from one of its stations.

A flexible regulatory context

Collaboration between companies, governments and other stakeholders is also fundamental as it is essential to determine the right balance between the interests of customers, operators and the authority. The impact that has already been reached through the association of different players in the mobility market is already inspiring and uplifting.

Here are some encouraging examples: See on Instagram

  • Malta: Partly due to Malta Public Transport‘s collaboration, the country has become one of the early adopters of the MaaS model. At Meep we have had the pleasure of integrating a wide range of transport services into our platform that have led to a sharing and more sustainable transport system for Malta’s citizens to enjoy.
  • Belgium: The government has approved the enabling of corporate drivers to opt for mobility budget instead of the company car.
  • Helsinki: The Finnish transport ministry’s strategy included a MaaS component in its legislation, which has been in place since 2011. This added to a well-functioning public transport network, established a good basis for the development of a new transport service in the city.

The implementation of MaaS solutions in companies will also play a big role. A large number of corporations have demonstrated their commitment to lowering their environmental footprint. Some examples are the implementation of a better management of the worker’s flow, the redistribution of the employee’s travel allowance or the offer of discounts and other rewards for smart mobility riders.

However, there is still a long path ahead of us. Big steps need to be taken towards cities in which:

  • There is a flexible regulatory framework that favours agreements between public and private stakeholders and organisms.
  • There is an exploitation of different operators acting as sandboxes for pioneering solutions.
  • Startups increase their chances to access public procurement. It is key that public administrations provide some initial investment to jump-start the ecosystem.
  • Public administration encourages MaaS ensuring access to the mobility market for all operators regardless the size, and avoids enabling bottlenecks, monopolies and the development of closed systems.
  • Work is done through secure architectures and standard interfaces in order to facilitate the cooperation among the various members of a MaaS ecosystem.
  • The EU Start Prize organization is creating a Day After Manifesto to help EU leaders to better support innovation and startups.

Also, the integration of several providers of different modes of transport already used in their own business schemes and data processes, in one single platform where the user interacts, has its difficulties. Putting together all the pieces of the puzzle is a real challenge, but although MaaS still has a handful of obstacles to overcome, we are sure it is the best path to follow to improve the planet’s health and for citizens to enjoy urban mobility to the maximum.

What changes has COVID-19 provoked in MaaS?

Groundbreaking trends such as work-from-home, pickup / delivery services or entertainment-as-a-service have emerged from the coronavirus crisis and all these technology-driven changes will lead to a behavioural transformation. The virus has also deeply reshaped mobility patterns, user behaviour related to MaaS transit and has changed the type of mobility services available.

Photo by Liam Burnett-Blue | Unsplash

MaaS platforms have had to take all these modifications into account, adjusting to them by including a series of measures. At Meep, for example, apart from making the safety commuting recommendations accessible to everyone, we are ensuring that our community receives all the information needed to maintain the necessary social distance with regards to other passengers.

The latest mobility trend, autonomous vehicles: how are they connected to MaaS?

You have probably heard about the recent development of autonomous vehicles, one of the most disruptive technologies currently creating a huge impact in the mobility system. These vehicles rely on sensors, actuators, complex algorithms, machine learning systems and other sophisticated technologies to be able to go anywhere a common car could go, and react as a human experienced driver would in different situations. SAE International defines six levels of autonomy to classify these vehicles, due to the multitude of players in the space, that have created the need for a system of classification.

But how will this mind blowing technology affect Mobility as a Service systems? Autonomous vehicles will undoubtedly play a significant role in the evolution from the already digitalised and connected mobility ecosystem to a world where transport on demand is a daily reality for users, who will be able to count on autonomous vehicles for their displacements. They will start becoming a part of the MaaS model, covering some of the citizen’s essential displacement needs, and they might be the main reason that the ownership model will shift from one-car-one-user to one-car-multiple users, evolving from the current car ownership model to a Maas model.

As a matter of fact, some cities are already deploying autonomous vehicles to cover the last mile issue. For instance, the public transport operator (TPF) from Fribourg in Switzerland has launched an autonomous shuttle service that connects the city’s public transit system with the Marly Innovation Center, with the aim of transporting citizens to their working place and providing them with the service they need in this last kilometre.

Cities will benefit incredibly from these autonomous vehicles, that are projected to help to save millions of lives globally, eliminate congestion, reduce emissions and allow us to rebuild cities around people and not cars. However, we still have to go through a transition period, where the mobility ecosystem as we know it right now will coexist with this new revolutionary technology, that will gradually gain ground towards a more efficient mobility environment.

One of the biggest steps forward in this area has been Intel’s recent purchase of Moovit public transit application, demonstrating how this industry is generating great interest and its future potential growth. The company had already acquired Mobileye in 2017, a company characterised by its autonomous vehicle technology aiming to make roads safer and reduce congestion in cities. According to IDTechEx research and taking into consideration the additional revenue from autonomous mobility services, the total market value for autonomous cars and robotaxis could reach 2.5$ trillion per year by 2040. Autonomy-enabled MaaS will rapidly expand in the upcoming decades while it gradually replaces car ownership.

Additionally, MaaS platforms will not only incorporate advanced technology autonomous vehicles among their services. The aim is to improve the quality of user’s lives, and this will only happen if these platforms connect citizens to other sources of information on top of transport. For example, a user might find really helpful to know where the cheapest coffee place is on a way to a meeting or where the nearest supermarket is to buy food before entering the cinema. This will constitute the next big step forward to reach even higher levels of personalisation, where the generation of an infrastructure that allows the deployment of digital solutions such as MaaS will be needed.

Mobility as a Service: a way of adding value to people’s lives

As Sonja Heikkilä (one of the leading global MaaS leaders on Mobility as a Service) said:

‘‘We have to think of mobility as something that would add value to our lives instead of taking a lot of time and effort.’’

Broad-minded businesses are seeing these ambiguous times as a real chance to reimagine a new value opportunity. The change of mindset towards products and experiences that are available ‘as-a-service’ is happening, and MaaS has the potential to address today’s mobility weaknesses. We are living a unique moment of evolution not only towards a new normality in life, but also towards a new and resilient mobility that will be impulsed by MaaS. The theory is already out there, and we are gradually paving the way towards an even more substantial innovation in MaaS, where the system will adopt autonomous vehicles as part of it to achieve even higher levels of connection and adaptability. At Meep we are truly impatient to see this becoming real in the upcoming years!

Main image: Photo by Fabrizio Verecchia | Unsplash