Mobility as a Service: Part One – What is it?

Welcome to our three-part series on Mobility as a Service. During this series, we will examine what Mobility as a Service means, what problems it aims to solve, and the limitations and challenges involved.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is an emerging area where mobile technology has the potential to totally disrupt the way we experience transport – but we don’t know what the future experience might look like.

But firstly, what is Mobility as a Service?

The concept is about providing a service without the user owning the product – in this case, transport where the user doesn’t own vehicle. As a result, most MaaS thinking, until now, has been about how to persuade people not to own a car but to rent one or use other public modes of transport.

Transport operators and technology providers are interested in MaaS, its opportunities and some of the barriers. However, is removing ownership of cars a compelling proposition for consumers on its own? What need is it meeting, and what benefits are there for the user? MaaS has significant potential, but it could yet be another idea searching for a purpose.

There are several services operating that already address the needs of city living without owning a car. DriveNow, Zipcar and even Uber are changing the way we think about car ownership in urban areas. But each of these replaces the owning with renting a car – other modes of transport, for example rail, are not part of the offer.

An integrated model is more interesting when thinking about a persons’ mobility or transport. The Transport Systems Catapult report on MaaS (“Exploring the opportunity for mobility as a service in the UK”) defines the customer as a consumer of transport services. However, we think it is more appropriate to talk about users in a less passive way, but more as proactive designers of bespoke transport services.

This shift in thinking is important in how we consider the user and build a more user-centred approach to MaaS services.

There have been limited trials of MaaS in cities, such as Helsinki, where the model is about linking up new service offers with public transport. Residents in Helsinki use an app called Whim, which lets users combine the transport services they want to take to their destination. The app also facilitates payments, so users can pre-pay monthly or have an account and pay-as-they-go. The goal is to prove to users that they can get around the city easier than if using their own car.

Beyond these early trials, there has been little progress in figuring out what MaaS might mean for mass transportation, and joining up different modes of transport. How can we enable the user to become the architect of their journey?

So, what exactly is it that MaaS is trying to achieve? What problems in the user’s life is MaaS trying to solve? Check back next Thursday, where we will dig deeper into the aims of Mobility as a Service.



David Watts

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