Technology offers more travel choices which can improve personal mobility, Bridget Fox of Campaign for Better Transport asks how to do it without adding to congestion and pollution
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) gives travellers the ability to access and pay for multiple transport mode in one place. So rather than owning a car, you access train travel, car clubs, bike hire, buses and other modes through one app or server as and when needed.
Developed as a concept around 10 years ago, it’s an idea that is still evolving, with a host of providers competing to define and offer different versions of what MaaS can look like in practice. In particular, motor manufacturers have seized on the potential of MaaS to provide a new market for their vehicles, as the impact of ‘dieselgate’ continues to hit car sales. The House of Commons Transport Committee has a live inquiry into the potential for MaaS and the barriers that need to be overcome to speed its implementation in the UK. As the Committee’s call for evidence notes, despite the huge potential to be truly multi-modal, the most popular app-based services to date have tended to be demand-responsive, based on taxis and minicabs.
Environmental and societal health
For us to have healthy cities, healthy communities and a healthy planet, MaaS needs to help reduce car dependency, not enable more of it. Successful Mobility as a Service offers will build on multi-modal provision, rather than an over reliance on autonomous cars. That means bringing MaaS into the sustainable transport hierarchy: reduce demand, widen travel choice, maximise efficiency, and make additional traffic a last resort.
Our evidence to the inquiry recognises that well-planned MaaS can improve social inclusion, cut traffic and pollution and help reduce dependency on private car ownership, by filling gaps in existing services, and providing liberating mobility for people excluded from mainstream options.
But there is also the risk that poorlyplanned MaaS, with a proliferation of private services competing for a relatively agile and affluent urban customer base, could simply lead to more vehicles on the road, adding to congestion and pollution, while reinforcing existing damaging patterns of social exclusion in poorer and more isolated communities. We argue that MaaS needs good regulation and planning to maximise its potential and good integration with existing provision, sharing data and working closely with local and regional transport authorities as part of a highquality network.
There is a great opportunity for rail services to be the spine of a truly multimodal MaaS offer, and we look to the government to require MaaS compatibility in future rail franchises. The mixed experience of smart ticketing schemes shows that even where there is potential for technical compatibility, the structure of service contracts and problems agreeing an allocation of fares means that seamless multimodal ticketing has not always been offered.
Developing practical solutions to these challenges is a key area to improve future MaaS offers. In the midst of this debate, a new report ‘MaaS: Putting Transit Front and Center of the Conversation’ from US experts Cubic Transportation Systems, is timely and helpful. Cubic is an established player in the UK’s modern rail scene, providing smart ticketing services from Trans Pennine to Southern, and has partnered with Transport for London to launch its mobile ticketing app.
Their report focuses on the goals for any service, arguing that the ultimate function of any well-designed mobility system in a city is to better connect people in a way that improves quality of life.
As its author Matt Cole explains, the report sets out to demystify what MaaS is and crucially makes the case for why public transport must be the backbone of MaaS, and a key contributor to its design and implementation.
Cubic offers a clear and comprehensive definition of MaaS: ‘Mobility as a Service is a combination of public and private transportation services within a given regional environment that provides holistic, optimal and people-centred 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.’
That means coordination to ensure that MaaS meets common objectives: otherwise, services will remain fragmented and risk undermining, rather than enhancing, a wellconnected city. As new providers join the scene, collaboration, not competition, is the best route to a MaaS offer that works for all.
The report makes a strong case that public transport operators are best suited to lead MaaS implementation, given the level of integration and multi-modal provision many already deliver, as well as their responsibility to provide services that cater to all travellers, not only the agile and the affluent.
Such public-led services can help fill gaps in existing provision and fund new infrastructure investment, a virtuous circle that moves MaaS beyond enabling consumer choice to become a practical way to connect whole cities. To maximise the benefits of MaaS, local authorities or a regulated lead operator should have the role to oversee the development, deployment and co-ordination of MaaS provision in their area.
Technology is key to MaaS, providing integrated ticketing and real time travel information. The next generation of smart tickets, with truly integrated access to public and pay as you go private provision, are already being developed. Cubic’s NextCity strategy is one example, offering one account that integrates all forms of mobility.
Coordinated MaaS will enable the capturing of travel data that can continue to shape better service provision and inform better transport choices. As Cole writes, ‘This would not only drive further efficiency of operations, but it would also arm cities with the tools needed to encourage greater social responsibility, extending the benefits from the individual to the community as a whole.’
Principles of MaaS
But technology is only half the story. In increasingly congested and diverse cities, getting the right principles to shape how MaaS works in practice is also critical. The report proposes propose ten key objectives that any future MaaS initiatives should look to achieve:
- limit congestion, particularly during peak travel periods
- reduce car ownership, car usage and the number of vehicles on roads
- use existing infrastructure more effectively and create economies of scale
- ease pressure on the transportation network
- enable better traffic and capacity management
- improve the customer experience by presenting the transportation network as an integrated system
- cater to all travellers, young and old, able and less able, the wealthy and the economically disadvantaged
- create a model that supports the funding of infrastructure
- lessen the overall environmental impact of transportation
- work in both driver-controlled and autonomous environments.
While Cubic’s vision has been developed in the US, its principles translate well to the UK environment.
The WHIM app, developed in Helsinki, covers public transport, taxi, car share and bike hire, with a single app, available on a prepay or pay as you go model, similar to a mobile phone package. The WHIM app, using the Helsinki software, is now being developed for use in the West Midlands city region.
Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council are developing a common platform with transport operators including Great Western and Chiltern Railways, to offer journey planning, local MaaS schemes and support delivery of local smart city and low emission zone programmes. Transport for the North is committed to rolling out an integrated and smart travel programme, starting with a rail smartcard and a fair fare promise being launched this year.
In Cornwall, the county council is developing the One Cornwall vision, with a single network including rail and bus, with unified ticketing and journey planning. Across the country, forward-thinking transport authorities are embracing the potential for MaaS, including through the Transport Data Initiative which brings together local authorities to explore such innovative solutions. We warmly welcome this positive approach to Mobility as a Service, one with public transport at its heart.
Bridget Fox is Sustainable Transport Campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport