Mobility as a Service: Don’t fragment the marketplace
Carplus Bikeplus in Local Transport Today
‘Mobility as a Service’ or MaaS is the most important disruptor of transport today. It’s easy to dismiss this as hype, but, in its recent report for the DfT, the Transport Systems Catapult outlines ‘A future in which people buy bundles of mobility services from Mobility as a Service (MaaS) providers’. MaaS is exciting stuff as it represents a complete change in our personal relationship with transport in which – in its most radical form – we buy mobility in multi-modal bundles accessed via smartphones.
Shared mobility is integral to MaaS, and for this reason Carplus and Bikeplus have a strong interest in shaping the MaaS agenda. MaaS could facilitate travel lifestyles in which people can tailor their transport to the moment, hopping from bus to train, travelling the last mile on a bike share bike, finding a shared car driving the return portion and using car club cars at the weekend. Individuals could set their travel budgets on a month by month basis and no longer sink costs into a privately owned car (or indeed an annual rail ticket).
This vision suddenly creates a viable alternative to car ownership for many more people. The mega-trend shift from owning stuff to buying services means that the next transport revolution is not a mode, but flexible services packaged digitally.
Research by Carplus, Bikeplus and others over the years has shown consistently that providing attractive alternatives to car ownership in the form of car clubs, ride sharing and bike sharing reduces the number of miles driven per year and the transport carbon footprint of users. These options are increasingly attractive to younger people who aspire less and less to own cars. In larger cities, there are shifts in travel behaviour away from private car ownership as well. With this evidence, we see MaaS as, potentially, the catalyst that kicks the scale of these changes into another league.
It’s for this reason that Carplus and Bikeplus are actively involved in TravelSpirit. As a not-for-profit association guided by a set of public benefit goals and objectives, TravelSpirit provides a progressive forum to pose the important questions that can get lost in the enthusiasm for the technologies of MaaS.
We are particularly interested in the wider considerations of where and how shared transport fits in to MaaS development, what can be learnt from shared transport to accelerate MaaS development, and how to make sure that social and environmental benefits are embedded from the outset.
The vision for TravelSpirit is that all assets are held in the ‘global commons’, curated by TravelSpirit through open governance and open collaboration between parties, enabled by Open Source Initiative and Creative Commons approved licencing. It is supported by a new Community Interest Company, ‘Public Software’ which has been created to provide legal and financial services to TravelSpirit, and other European OpenSource projects. (These are similar in function to the Linux and Mozilla Foundations support for more advanced open source communities.)
TravelSpirit works at all levels: the open source coding, the digital tech sector, data supply chains, transport operators (public transport, leasing, shared mobility) and for local communities, cities and nation states.
Along side the enabling power of new technology, changes in public and private sector involvement in shaping transport unlock the potential of MaaS. MaaS leads to a marketplace of transport providers, and there is uncertainty around how the marketplace will develop. Whilst our research indicates that shared transport benefits environment and society, the likely scale and reach of MaaS means that we need to be vigilant in shaping its outcomes.
We therefore welcome the open ethos of TravelSpirit in helping to contribute to these debates.
Whilst debating how MaaS develops in the UK, and who will shape its outcomes, we can look for international role models and learn from them.
In Finland the Whim app, one of the world’s first fully integrated multimodal transport apps allows users to plan their route and purchase their tickets for bus, train, bike, taxi or car travel.
It operates across all of Finnish cities and public transport networks and the company has signed up all Finland’s rail and city public transport companies and has an agreement with car hire company Sixt. The app offers subscription service or pay-as-you-go options, which gives users access to a hire car.
It is this integration which is the holy grail of open access. Creating a service which allows access to the broadest selection of travel options is surely the best way to ensure an attractive alternative to car ownership.
However, MaaS is growing in dense urban areas, whilst accessibility challenges are often outside these urban cores. We do not want to see a future in which provision is dense and competitive in populous areas and absent outside those. A scenario in which proprietary platforms compete with each other for total domination of the transport sector is likely to lead to the disenfranchisement of local communities and local transport operators – increasing the gulf between the transport rich and the transport poor.
It is therefore essential that the app platforms in development are open source and open to all transport providers.
Sampo Hietanen, founder of MaaS Global and the Whim app, supported the launch of TravelSpirit and called for a healthy competition in the market they are entering:
“Rather than aiming for a ‘winner takes all’ position within the industry, MaaS Global are promoting a ‘roaming ecosystem’ of MaaS operators; who would, together, cover the market for a diverse range of spatial contexts and customer segments.
This approach requires an open approach to the supporting ‘back-office’ infrastructure; hence MaaS Global’s support for TravelSpirit.”
Whilst establishing a broad framework, TravelSpirit is currently concentrating its efforts in Manchester and Birmingham. A range of organisations are involved, including the Department for Transport, Transport for Greater Manchester, Alstom, along with global partners MaaS Global and La Fabrique des Mobilitiés who have already helped ‘crowd-fund’ the launch of TravelSpirit. In addition, at its launch in Manchester, participants at the design workshop ‘crowd-sourced’ their collective expertise to provide the world thought leadership on how best to enable a MaaS revolution.
Although TravelSpirit is a positive step towards open source and open access development, the risks that we could end up with a fragmented offer, are real. In its recent report on MaaS Transport Systems Catapult notes emerging disparate apps:
“There are many existing examples of businesses securing a position across the transport operator, data provider and MaaS provider layers of the ecosystem. For example, Uber’s taxi-based MaaS offering, or alternatively the train operating companies and carshare enterprises that provide apps for their passengers’ use.”
In addition, experimentation by vehicle manufacturers looking for market models that meet people’s emerging preferences for ‘access over ownership’ is adding to the diversity of smartphone based travel booking platforms. And Transport Systems Catapult notes that other players from outside the transport sector may yet enter the field – any number of media, retail or telecom companies (from Google to Amazon) could partner with transport companies to create new structures.
With this in mind, we believe it’s urgent and important that open source frameworks are developed so that travellers do not get locked into fragmented service provision and always have access to the best, most flexible and cost effective means of transport.
Given the success of Whim in Finland, we are encouraged that it is supporting TravelSpirit and we will follow developments in Manchester with interest.