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Keeping Cities on the Move: MaaS & the Future of Urban Mobility

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Today, close to 4 billion people reside in urban areas – a number set to grow considerably in the coming decades. It is predicted that by 2030, the world will have 41 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants and by 2050, 66 percent of the world’s population will be urban.[1] These new levels of urbanization call for innovative new ways of managing cities and the transport arteries that help keep a city going and growing.

With the accelerating shift toward urbanization, there are ever greater demands placed on transportation networks. However, increasing capacity to deal with this growth is often not an option as building more subway tunnels, buying additional buses, or adding more ticket machines all take time and are expensive, often prohibitively so. They can also require more physical space than cities have to spare.

Cities around the world are instead turning to technology – and in particular the smartphone – to provide a solution; improving network utilization and efficiency, while at the same time helping to improve the journey experience for citizens.

Globally, public transport agencies and technology companies have been working together to deliver innovation, efficiencies and better passenger experiences. There is now much more choice and convenience when making a journey. You can plan your trip using a journey planning app, which will tell you the best route and when your vehicle will arrive. You can jump on a public or private bike service through an app. You can order a taxi, car service and share the ride. In some areas you may no longer need to wait in line to pay or buy a ticket through mobile ticketing technology, which is linking services together helping to enable a seamless payment experience.

All these services have done a fantastic job in helping people move around cities faster and more conveniently. They are also providing the foundations for the next stage in this journey, the development of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), which has risen to prominence in the transportation industry over the last few years.

What is MaaS?

As defined by the MaaS Alliance; “Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand. For its users, MaaS should be the best value proposition, by helping them meet their mobility needs and solve the inconvenient parts of individual journeys as well as the entire system of mobility services.”

Imagine being able to combine ridesharing, public transit and bike sharing into a single or connected offering, where you can easily plan, purchase and travel using the most convenient route and vehicle for your trip. Essentially the passenger proposition is simple – you use the vehicle of your choice, pay and make the trip in the most convenient way possible, only paying for what you use, however much you use.

MaaS may seem like part of distant future, but we have the tools to help make this vision a reality around the world and help our cities to grow and thrive right now. Thanks to smartphones, a significant portion of the population now has GPS, payment abilities and sensor capabilities at their fingertips. With advances in open data and other technologies there’s never been more real-time passenger information available to make the idea of optimizing a MaaS platform attainable. Combine that with the many new mobility options that have appeared in recent years like ridesharing, bike sharing and the advent of more on-demand services and autonomous vehicles and MaaS becomes a truly feasible reality.

Where has MaaS been deployed?

Today, we are at very early stages of MaaS. One of the first deployments went live in Hanover in February 2016, bundling together journey planning with public transport and taxi services to form a ‘joint mobility bill’. Another MaaS offering went live in Finland in late 2016, running on a monthly subscription basis, and recently a small pilot begun in the West Midlands, UK

Is MaaS The ‘Netflix’ for Public Transportation?

Currently, MaaS is talked about as the giant in transportation. The problem is that transport options are not infinite. You can’t just make an unlimited amount of buses, cars or trains appear to fulfill peaks in demand.

This subscription-based approach to MaaS can help reduce car usage because of the commitment to packages – you’re more likely to use something you pay for every month and it provides a simple and attractive passenger proposition – but it can fall short in other ways. Subscriptions favor wealthier individuals that can afford to pre-pay for their transport with a higher upfront cost. They also create a barrier for customers who don’t know in advance what package will fit their needs. Transport needs are often not rigid, as peoples’ plans and destinations shift from week to week, which makes choosing the right package difficult.

Another major detraction for subscriptions is that they don’t address the demand/response nature of transport. Surge-pricing, which can help reduce congestion in times of high demand by discouraging use via high prices, is one example that would not be possible with a set subscription price.

As this approach to MaaS falls short in places and for certain user groups, we believe account-based MaaS provides a better option (or at the very least a mix of both is required). This uses a token to track travel, and fares are calculated in the back-office based on usage. This gives the flexibility to charge using models such as the ‘best available fare’ for a journey, taking into account all the different modes used over a time period. It also allows cities to tie together services and hides the complexity of doing so from the customer, creating a seamless experience.

Account-based MaaS achieves this by putting the city at the center of MaaS. In other words, the city retains the control needed to meet all the various players’ – like private mobility companies and users – objectives by using service provision and policy to help solve issues like congestion.

What does putting the city at the center of MaaS look like in practice?

London is one city where account-based MaaS is easy to visualize. Currently, some of the cities outermost areas are underserved by public transport, while the city-center is congested and heavily served. If the city were to move to implement an account-based MaaS model, it could incentivize ridesharing in the outer-regions where there’s limited public transit services and further regulate it in the inner zones, where high occupancy transit is plentiful, in order to reduce congestion and speed up journey times for everyone.

Account-based MaaS can also provide greater equity and accessibility, since riders only pay for what they use with no upfront costs. It also allows cities to link together a diverse range of transport options including public transit, tolling, parking and other mobility solutions.

The Future of Urban Mobility

We see a future where you are able to tap, scan or simply be and use whichever services you require, paying for it after you have made your journey. This experience, together with more on-demand and autonomous transit, will help move people onto the most optimal services for their journey, enabling cities to better control transit options and reduce congestion.

However we get there, and whatever options cities choose moving forward, it’s clear there is a more connected mobility future ahead, where transit is far more integrated than it is today. Ultimately, this move is critical to allow cities to cope with the predicted growth and to enable them to thrive – which is something i think we can all get on board with.

About the Author

Josh Nicklin, Masabi

Josh Nicklin of Masabi, has led some of the foremost mobile ticketing deployments worldwide. His background is in mobile, working in the industry for more than a decade with Trinity Mirror PLC, AKQA and Netplay TV PLC. Prior to Masabi, Josh founded Touch Mobile as part of a management buyout of a gaming service from within Netplay TV, subsequently successfully selling this company and then went on to form another organization within the mobile marketing space. In his previous role as Head of Marketing at Masabi he managed the customer collaboration around promotional activity that lead the successful first deployment of mobile ticketing in the US, bringing JustRide to Boston’s Commuter Rail network. Since then as Head of Business Development for EMEA he has gone on to lead deployments in the UK with Thames Clippers and one of the first city-wide multi-modal deployments of mobile ticketing worldwide, in Athens.

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