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10 objectives for assessing Mobility as a Service

MaaS has the potential to transform cities, but first, we need a new paradigm for how we are using it.

The concept of Mobility as a Service (or MaaS) is well known in the transit industry. Generally understood as a vision of transportation that involves the integration of various forms and modes of transit, MaaS has been the subject of a heated debate for the last few years. Some industry leaders see it as a fad — a fancy name for the collection of concepts and ideas about the future of transportation that does little to further actual implementation of pragmatic solutions and technologies. Others think of MaaS as an umbrella term for the proliferation of alternative transit services such as ZipcarLyft or BlaBlaCar that have dominated the transportation market in recent years. Some see genuine potential in the ideas embodied by MaaS and its technologies. But with so many points of view, it is very much the case that where you stand on MaaS depends largely on where you sit.

The situation begs the question: What do we really know about MaaS? With so many points of view, how can we objectively assess the potential of the concept? Is it possible to once and for all decide on its place in the making or breaking the future of transportation? I believe it is — and it can be achieved through an exercise in conceptualization.

Maas: ground zero

In order to accurately assess the potential of MaaS, it’s necessary to first establish a proper definition of the concept. From the perspective of the wider transportation network, MaaS that’s dictated by the commercial interests of private mobility providers doesn’t offer much value over the direct monetary gain of the private operator. On the other hand, MaaS that relates only to public transit and excludes other forms of transportation is too limiting. Finally, MaaS understood without considering the context in which it ultimately will operate seems impulsive and unconsidered. For those reasons, I propose a new definition of MaaS — one that looks at the transportation network in its entirety and takes into account wider implications of the concept on the community:

Mobility as a Service is a combination of public and private transportation services within a given regional environment that provides holistic, optimal and people-centered travel options, to enable end-to-end journeys paid for by the user as a single charge, and which aims to achieve key public equity objectives.

Adjusting the focus

With a new definition of MaaS, we can take a closer look at its key stakeholders. For several years, MaaS has been directly associated with the private sector. After all, private companies have dominated the conversations about MaaS in many regions, oftentimes becoming the early adopters of the concept.

Yet MaaS has a lot to offer to public transit, and it’s time to take a closer look at those benefits. Contrary to a common misconception, integration of third-party transit services into the wider public mobility offering doesn’t hurt transit; it actually encourages wider use of public transit, maintaining and even actively increasing ridership. Alternative transit services can address first/last mile problems as well as serve routes that are typically very costly and require a high level of government subsidy (such as paratransit), not only increasing revenues for transit agencies but also helping to direct funding and investment back to core transit services.

Contrary to a common misconception, integration of third-party transit services into the wider public mobility offering doesn’t hurt transit.
For that to happen, however, the transportation industry must shift focus — encouraging public transit authorities to assume their place as the backbone of mobility. With public transit at its heart, MaaS not only can benefit individual travelers but make a lasting impact on our cities and communities, improving the standard of living, reducing congestion and pollution and connecting more people than ever to opportunities.

In scenarios where public transit agencies take complete ownership of MaaS and are able to define how future mobility offerings should interact and connect with transit, everybody wins — including private operators, public transit agencies, cities and most importantly, travelers themselves.

Pushing the gas pedal on MaaS

Once we accept that public transit is best suited to drive MaaS implementation, it’s crucial that we establish objectives that responsible, people-centered and socially inclusive MaaS must strive to meet. I strongly believe that any MaaS effort should aim to help cities achieve the following 10 objectives:

  1. Limit congestion, particularly during peak travel periods
  2. Reduce car ownership, car usage and the number of vehicles on roads
  3. Use existing infrastructure more effectively and create economies of scale
  4. Ease pressure on the transportation network
  5. Enable better traffic and capacity management
  6. Improve the customer experience by presenting the transportation network as an integrated system
  7. Cater to all travelers, young and old, able and less-able, the wealthy and the economically disadvantaged
  8. Create a model that supports the funding of infrastructure
  9. Lessen the overall environmental impact of transportation
  10. Work in a driver-controlled and autonomous environment

Setting clear objectives is not only helpful in assessing and quantifying the effectiveness of MaaS initiatives, but it also can help direct investment and choice of technology and agree to the appropriate level of regulation.

Setting clear objectives is not only helpful in assessing and quantifying the effectiveness of MaaS initiatives, it also can help direct investment and choice of technology.
That’s an important consideration because regulation can be rigid and oftentimes slow to adopt. Cities will need to find the right balance between allowing innovation to grow organically and ensuring consumers’ and cities’ best interests are kept in check. The ultimate goal of a regulated approach to MaaS should promote investment, while making sure any mobility efforts are aligned with broader social equity goals. As a general rule, regulators should play the role of responsible and encouraging guardians: stepping in and correcting the course when necessary but allowing cities to arrive at their own solutions without a negative impact on innovation.

It’s time we recognize that Mobility as a Service can be a truly transformative concept when thinking about the future of transportation and how the integration of different forms and modes of transport, customer experience, payment and back office functions can inspire the creation of new transit models.

For that to happen, public transit must act as the driving force behind MaaS initiatives, acting as facilitator of partnerships, enabler of innovation and guardian of cities’ and the public’s interests. If it can do that, it will help MaaS achieve its full potential for the future of mobility.

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