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Exploring Mobility as a Service in emerging markets

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The past few months have exposed me to early-stage product development of platform-based technology for transport solutions. This invaluable experience engaging with the early-stage development of platform technology and its application in emerging cities has challenged me in many ways in my understanding of smart cities and the emerging approaches to public transport reform.

There is a steady adoption of technology-driven solutions in African cities and an increase in the awareness that mobility is a key component to designing a healthy and livable city. The trend of the smart city is relatively finding its way into the policy papers of many city plans. From Lagos, Nairobi, Kigali to Cape Town we see an endeavour to drive the smart city agenda. Several of these “smart” solutions are emerging in the transportation sector. This is witnessed by the sharp increase in e-hailing platforms and a renewed interest in designing and providing integrated transportation systems.

I once deliberated here on Africa and its response to the emerging mobility landscape. I have stated the need for an accountable urban transport authority and an empowered regulatory framework to support the reform of the public transport industry in emerging cities. The slow pace, however, with which regulation is responding to the increasing need to integrate technology into existing transportation systems is a hindrance to realizing an efficient and optimised use of transport infrastructure facilities. As cities and regulatory authorities grapple with new technologies and the rising demand for urban mobility, transportation stakeholders are required to understand these imminent technological trends and the possibilities of developing new strategic options for efficient urban transport systems.

It is evident that any car-centric society is likely to take a similar trajectory towards gridlock as witnessed in most Western cities. This requires emerging markets to rethink their transportation systems and harness new ways of providing for and planning transport systems. One approach that has gained traction over the past few years presenting new business and operational models in transportation is Mobility as a Service — MaaS. I have been following the development of MaaS around the world and lately, I have paid attention to the possibilities of its growth in emerging economies. It is not a concept that has penetrated the developing markets yet, but as a mobility practitioner, I could not help but think about exploring the concept of MaaS and its application in developing new transport solutions for emerging economies.

Current transport services operate in closed and fragmented environments. This stifles the diffusion of innovation limiting our ability to respond effectively to the current mobility challenges. Transport technology startups providing new age mobility services have been pioneering ways of creating transport data and utilizing transportation systems. This new data provides insights into travel behaviour enabling cities to develop integrated transport plans that are multimodal with an objective of reducing the impact of car ownership. A platform-based approach to managing and providing mobility services unlocks the benefits of a data-driven decision-making approach. Platform business models enable the seamless exchange of data and create value in two principal ways. The first corresponds to transaction platforms, which facilitate transactions between different individuals, and organizations that would have otherwise have difficulty finding each other. The second corresponds to innovation platforms, which consists of technological building blocks that are used as a foundation on top of which a large number of innovators can develop complementary services. A MaaS platform can be described as an integrated platform as it is both a transaction platform and an innovation platform. A MaaS platform explores how technology can effectively balance supply and demand using existing resources in an environment where commuter needs and transport conditions change rapidlyMaaS is a platform allowing digital integration across the transport infrastructure services, giving consumers access to integrated mobility solutions. The key concept behind Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is to put the user at the core of transport services, offering them tailor-made mobility solutions based on their individual needs. Within the MaaS scheme, users will buy a mobility package according to their profiles and preferences (i.e. business mobility package, family package, etc.) and pay a fee accordingly.

Is it possible to apply concepts of MaaS in our ecosystems to improve transit in emerging cities? Is MaaS achievable in an environment that is largely informal and unregulated which is the case of most emerging markets? With poor digital infrastructure and unaffordable data, how can we possibly stir the growth of technology consumer services in emerging transport markets? Where in our transportation systems do we see the benefit in coalescing around digital platforms as an incremental approach to managing the transportation chaos currently choking emerging cities? Can a combined mobility service platform that benefits all the transportation stakeholders be realized in emerging economies and how?

These are some questions to think of when exploring the possibility of MaaS in emerging economies because the development of smart mobility initiatives requires specialized and contextualized policies addressing the needs and interests of many stakeholders involved. Since the development of such policies is challenging, there is a need to learn from the experience of many cities around the world offering efficient and successfully adopted smart mobility services. Innovation for problem-solving as applied to cities evolves around three themes. The people, the city, and the environment. Radical Innovative problem solving embodies extreme originality, impact factors, and new knowledge contribution. To achieve this borders on aligning and understanding the relationships between those three elements. With growing digitization and connected devices, platforms are a possible solution to bring transport stakeholders together. Platforms bring together different roles and facilitate transactions of value that focus on building lasting relationships. The challenge therefore for rethinking the transportation system is to balance the three critical components in ensuring that the key players in the provision of transport services benefit from the impending technological revolution. Strategies for the future of mobility in African cities is as much about insight, rapid experimentation, and evolutionary learning. It is a necessity to test new technology-driven operational and business models in the African mobility sector now.

Image Source – Flikr


Nigel ZhuwakiNigel Zhuwaki

Nigel is a research Engineer with experience in platform design and urban data analytics and is based in Cape Town, Africa.



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