Few mobility trends are as captivating or convincing as Mobility as a Service (MaaS), which is driving to streamline mobility and create more sustainable transportation along the way. More and more people are buying into the concept on a day-to-day basis, as the benefits of convenience and reduced congestion make themselves known, but the trend is a long way off being the acknowledged norm. What is the future of MaaS? Is this technology-driven disruptive idea the mobility solution that urban societies need to make smart cities more than just a buzzword? There is going to be plenty of discussion about MaaS in the coming years. Best strap yourself in.
What is MaaS?
Some are calling it "the biggest transport revolution of the 21st century," and such claims don’t come without clout. In a world growing more defined by the user every single day, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) feels like a long-overdue necessity and an innovative breath of fresh air all at once, collating the assumed with the desired. MaaS is yet to become a commonly heard term outside of innovation and industry development, but that won’t be the case for much longer.
With that in mind, it is important to lay clear exactly what is meant by Mobility as a Service. To the layman, the assumption will be that the name pretty much says it all: transportation offered as a service. But what does that mean precisely? MaaS is the integration of a wide range of transport services into one easily accessed menu, covering everything from public transport to car rental, from buying tickets to finishing the ride. The primary function of MaaS is to take what remains a stubbornly lengthy process and streamline it, providing the user with the best value along with a much more convenient service. In short, MaaS is designed to bring mobility into the 21st century.
The focus of MaaS is indeed on the customer, but the benefits to the wider world are not to be ignored. MaaS has the potential to change the way businesses approach every day while sparking a change in organizational structure, as well as possibly bringing about a revolution in vehicle ownership along the way. In a time where the ubiquity of vehicles is known to cause such monumental damage to the planet on which we live, such proposals must be considered with utmost seriousness and are vital for the development of smart cities, themselves a key mobility solution for a better world. MaaS may well be exactly what it says it is, but there is much more to this revolution than simple convenience and improved efficiency.
Cutting a long story short? Mobility as a Service offers mobility with customer requirements at the center, focusing on mobility rather than transport while integrating services, information, payment, and ticketing along the way.
What does it represent in cities and for people?
2020 may have seen countries around the world struggle to contain a global pandemic in virus form, but major cities have long been struggling with another, a more tangible pandemic of our own making: pollution. Exacerbated by excessive traffic, pollution has never been more rampant in big cities. According to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), 9 out of 10 Europeans living in cities are breathing harmful air, and exposure to fine particulate matter is responsible for as many as 400,000 premature deaths on the continent every single year. These sorts of numbers cannot be ignored. Cities have a pollution problem, and the problems need fixing.
This is where MaaS comes in. Now, those hoping for a quick fix are naive, to say the least, but the potential of MaaS offers cities a way to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, while creating a more efficient transport system for the growing number of people living in the metropolises of the world. The archetypical version of MaaS is set up for the urban environment, where consumers are faced with plenty of options throughout the normal day. In working terms, MaaS in the city would be a platform through which public transport networks can be considered alongside ride shares and bike rentals, with purchase and ticketing options integrated.
For individuals, MaaS represents a streamlining of what can be a frustratingly inefficient system. Privatization and consumer choice have created a sort of option paralysis, where decision-making takes up valuable time as users scroll endlessly through applications and websites offering the same thing at slightly different times and prices. MaaS is tailor-made to reduce this excess, collating everything into one easy-to-use function and allowing for greater efficiency throughout the day.
MaaS as an urban mobility solution
It's all well and good celebrating the concept of Mobility as a Service, but is it actionable as a solution for urban mobility problems? The numbers mentioned above aren’t the sort of statistics that can be swept away by digital innovation. MaaS may sound like a game-changer, but this is a game that doesn’t need changing; it needs ripping up and rebuilding. Is MaaS a viable urban mobility solution?
The answer to that is a fence-sitting yes and no, but what isn’t debatable is that MaaS will create a playing field that creates better urban mobility and allows for further improvements to flow. By its very definition, MaaS will steer cities towards more sustainable behavior when it comes to transport, be it through more focused awareness of the need for efficient public transport or even the importance of making citizens aware of such a thing. Replacing car ownership - or at the very least reducing car use in cities - is a vital step on the journey towards sustainable mobility. MaaS sets that journey in motion.
By breaking down its various aspects, the potential for MaaS to be a real urban mobility solution becomes clear. Integrating multiple forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand creates mobility that focuses on the needs of the customer as opposed to more divisive influences, and customers are frequently crying for a reduction in congestion. By its very initiation, MaaS can reduce the number of cars on the road, reducing the levels of CO2 that are belched into the atmosphere, directly improving air quality and thus the quality of life. MaaS is all about meeting mobility needs and removing inconveniences, and no transportation solution is viable without focusing on the latter. Creating a system where transport on demand trumps excess is vital to the long-term viability of mobility in cities.
Advantages of MaaS
What are the advantages and benefits of embracing and utilising MaaS? There is a vast array of ways that companies, cities, and citizens stand to gain from what some are calling the ‘Netflix of transport’. MaaS has the potential to create more efficient societies from top to bottom, improving the way mobility functions and how we function with it at the same time.
When stripped down entirely, the primary aim of MaaS is to make lives better. This is achieved through a variety of approaches, most notably a conscious effort to improve the passenger travel experience, as well as influencing an increased uptake in healthier transport options, be it walking or cycling. The quality of life benefits are clear for all to see. Improving the passenger travel experience is set in motion by improving customer choice (better access to different modes of transport) and the natural increase in productivity that comes from a more efficient transport network. If people aren’t stuck behind the wheel of a car in bumper-to-bumper traffic, they have more time to do things that benefit both individuals and the wider society.
The complexity of public transport ticketing schemes has long been a real bugbear for ordinary people, as a variety of options thrust themselves in front of each other like children, creating nothing but noise for the very people who use the systems. MaaS promises to clear this fog, replacing the myriad of concessions, discounts, travel cards, zones, and the rest with one easy-to-use hub from which options can be considered and decisions made, saving valuable time and money for the traveler.
The benefits of moving away from a congestion-heavy model of private vehicle ownership are obvious. Decreased traffic will directly lead to a lowering of expensive road maintenance activities, allowing transport sectors to allocate resources more efficiently across the board. Fewer cars on the road would also mean fewer accidents, meaning a great reduction in injuries and fatalities, not to mention a lowering of insurance premiums as a result. The benefits of decreased traffic would also be felt on the environment, as a reduction in CO2 and NO2 emissions would lead to improved air quality, a point of real necessity for major cities from New York to New Delhi. All this without mentioning the potential for utilising space currently wasted on excess parking, space that could be used for the green economy.
MaaS can also allow cities to allocate resources more efficiently, while creating brand new businesses and jobs from start to finish, having an obvious positive impact on the wider economy. The streamlined focus can also improve the quality of data that cities have available to them, in turn allowing for further developments. MaaS is a solution to many mobility problems that currently exist, but it can also be the foundation on which better lives are made. That, above all else, is the major advantage of Mobility as a Service.
What does the future of MaaS look like?
While the future looks rosy for those championing Mobility as a Service, it would be disingenuous to say that the concept has been embraced by all and sundry without a peep of protest. Far from it in fact, and the unprecedented social restrictions and neuroses created by the COVID-19 pandemic have once again thrown a fog over fully embracing shared mobility. Improving public transport networks is a must for cities, but increasing the number of bodies on a bus or train at any one time also seems like opening the door for further viruses to spread. Of course, that mentality comes with its issues, but the nagging fear of creating a fertile land for pandemics will be at the forefront of minds for the foreseeable future.
The total embrace of MaaS isn’t inevitable, but it is going to be something that makes its mark nonetheless. As it continues to evolve, what will MaaS look like? As with many similar society-wide concepts, it will be important for MaaS to stay true to its principles as it evolves, no matter how tempting the embrace of big business and data may be. MaaS is about improving the traveler’s experience and the positive knock-on impact that this has on wider society, and staying on this road (for want of a better term) could be the difference between success and failure. MaaS is a private approach to a public problem, but the public portion of the equation remains the most important.
The development and growing proliferation of autonomous vehicles also pose an interesting question to the future of MaaS. As self-driving cars become more popular, what will that mean for the development of Mobility as a Service within a city? Will the long-desired arrival of autonomous transport function alongside MaaS, or are the two ideas competing for approaches to the same problem? As we move closer to the advent of autonomous vehicles, it won’t be long before these questions must be tackled.
Does MaaS signal the end of individual car ownership? This is a question that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, as easy as it is to plump for either answer. Those saying ‘yes’ will point to the societal and environmental benefits of shared mobility, the domino effect that fewer cars on the road would have, and the productivity side of the coin, while those remaining in favor of individual ownership will accentuate their argument with thoughts of individuality, freedom and personal enjoyment. For MaaS to be a success, it will need to put together a convincing argument as to why individual car ownership isn’t something to aspire to. After decades of car purchases being held up as a sign of individual success within society, this is easier said than done.
But it will be done. It has to be done. The numbers surrounding congestion and mobility are simply too big to be ignored. MaaS isn’t perfect, but it might just be the best transportation solution for a world that desperately needs one.