Home Apps How Mobility as a Service is a Mother Theresa’s version of Grand Theft Auto. And how I would implement it in my city.

How Mobility as a Service is a Mother Theresa’s version of Grand Theft Auto. And how I would implement it in my city.

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Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the ‘blockchain’ of the mobility sector. After begin launched by Sampo Hietanen, the concept got interpreted in tens of different ways, and the term became blurry. Or MaaS was on purpose turned into an opaque concept. By commercial companies who believe it is an easy source of income, compensating the decline in hardware sales. Or by governments hoping that Mobility as a Service will solve all their mobility problems, compensating a lack of courage.

But what is it then, really? Mobility as a Service is the ultra-pacifist version of Grand Theft Auto. In the game, you can steal any kind of transport means you see in the street, and drive it. With MaaS, you can walk in any city and use any combination of taxi, train, bicycle sharing system, bus, rental car, tram, ride hailing, car sharing, … without any hassle or administration. You buy credits upfront, or get an invoice at the end of the month.

The benefits for you as a person are that you don’t have to own all the transport means you use, and you don’t have to plan that much ahead. Walk to a local restaurant for a date, decide hitchhiking to the Eiffel tower together would be the most romantic thing ever, get stuck in the middle of nowhere, call a cab, sleep on the train, use the Paris bike sharing system and kiss on a boat on one of the romantic channels over there. MaaS lets you do that, even if you forgot your wallet.

For citizens, the benefits are that they can always get around, without owning a car (or a bike). People can use the most appropriate means of transport for every part of their journey. Nowadays people are mostly stuck to a certain transport mode, because they are used to it and they have already paid for it. A system like MaaS can turn this around: by not owning a car and having unlimited (paid upfront) access to public transport, it would be more tempting to take a bus or bike.

I personally sold my car eight months ago. I calculated that the thing costed me about 300 Euro a month, apart from a lot of hassle (parking, maintenance, administration, worries, defects, cleaning, ..). It is extremely liberating not having already spent those € 300 at the beginning of every month. I enjoy spending my mobility budget in a conscious way and pay per ride, hour or kilometer as I take a taxi, bus, train, tram, bike or use a car sharing scheme. And of course, to have a substantial part of this budget left at the end of the month.

The main thing that stands in between me and my total freedom of mobility is a lot of different subscriptions, passes and cards. I have a lot of them for the city I live in, but as soon as I go somewhere else, they are useless. MaaS could bring a solution by giving me an overview of all mobility options, anywhere. And provide me the ability to use all of them with one app, my credit card or fingerprint.

I strongly believe Mobility as a Service can be key in a smarter use of public transport, public space and public funding, while at the same time increasing comfort for citizens. Because cities will benefit the most from MaaS, I advocate that cities initiate efforts on implementing MaaS.

While preparing for a MaaS congress in The Netherlands, I made a list of simple steps I would take to get MaaS to my city:

1. Governments should first of all have a future vision and plan mobility in their cities. What are their urban mobility policies and can MaaS help to achieve them? And if so, what do they want to reach? There is no goal in implementing MaaS if you don’t know what for.

2. Don’t put too much trust into consultants or mayor companies who want to implement MaaS for you, without the ability to tell you why. Especially when they want you to use their platform or products. Any company contacting you, should be able to tell you how they will help you reach your mobility vision by maximizing the benefits and minimizing the drawbacks of MaaS

3. If you didn’t have any open data already on public transport timetables, bus stops, real-time delays, bike sharing stations, .. stop reading this and get things done.

4. Define how you will monitor the use of MaaS and the different transport modes in your city. There is no point in implementing something to achieve your vision if you don’t know if it is actually working. If you want the promote the use of car sharing over private car use, but don’t want public transport users to shift to ride hailing services, you better think of how you will monitor this. You will need data from services you don’t own, so keep this in mind for future negotiations.

5. Governments should start by giving the good example, in order to avoid the ‘chicken or the egg’ problem. Before anything else, all services operated or paid by governments should have an open ticketing API. This means third parties can sell tickets for your buses, trams, trains, bicycle sharing schemes, parking, .. By doing so, you will create a minimal offer for MaaS in your city and stimulate local start-ups and MaaS providers to investigate and experiment. In the ideal case, these open ticketing API’s have been built by local universities or start-ups, and are open source and can be re-used by others.

6. Reach out to your local mobility providers (car sharing systems, taxi’s, bike sharing and rental companies, ride hailing services, ..). Invite them all and get them around a table. Ask them what their vision is for the future. Tell them what MaaS is. Check if it benefit them. How can they, and should they implement MaaS in their roadmap, vision, products and services? Keep on organizing frequent gatherings, and check where help & expertise is needed. Offer advice from legal and technical experts.

7. In my opinion, governments should help create a level playing field, without being in the middle all the time. Governments could be a first point of contact and explain the specificities of mobility in their city. They can indicate who the mobility providers are, how to interact with local players, what their local mobility policies are and how MaaS can help achieve them. They should help ensuring that no monopolies are put in place, and the local mobility providers don’t get tricked into disadvantageous contracts.

I believe cities can do this by leveraging their position. Most cities offer mobility services themselves. It would be logically only to work with parties that bring your vision into practice.

Another important way to leverage your position: MaaS will only be a success when it has customers. Getting to end-customers takes a lot of energy and money from MaaS providers. As a city, you have the advantage that those customers are your citizens. You can ‘recommend’ MaaS providers that operate under conditions you consider fair by handing out a quality label or mention them on your website.

8. Avoid making it too difficult. Start by stimulating tickets sales of existing mobility providers through open ticketing API’s. It might be too ambitious to first create new bus lines or attract certain mobility service providers. Start with what is already there, it should be there already for a good reason. Help the existing providers by offering them lessons learned and (open) technical solutions from global or European projects and networks you are involved with.

9. Don’t build a MaaS platform yourself, but act as a ‘marriage agency’ between local mobility services and MaaS providers. You are a government, not an IT company, and there is a big chance that the market can create solutions much faster and more efficient than you can.

10. Keep on bringing your mobility service providers around a table. Keep on talking to MaaS providers. Keep on talking with other cities. Monitor what is happening in your city. Be willing to change your habits, while people in the street are changing theirs. Think outside of the box. For example, woud it make sense to shift from a fixed yearly road tax to a tax or subsidy per kilometer or hour driven, depending on factors like: how busy is the road / bus / .. , infrastructure costs, impact on health of the user and the community ..

It would be very interesting to get feedback from MaaS experts, other cities, mobility service providers and MaaS platforms and integrate it in this draft action plan, before actually bringing it to practice.

ps.: this is an interesting paper on MaaS from a city perspective, by Polis.

This article was written by Pieter Morlion who is a Project Manager Traffic Control Center at the City of Ghent, Belgium.

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