Workshop: Policy making for open Mobility as a Service

Discussion from the TravelSpirit Conference, 26 September 2017

James Gleave, Transport Futures and TravelSpirit UK Board

Mobility as a Service poses a significant challenge to policy makers. Transport has traditionally been approached in a siloed mentality. Buses have their approach to ticketing, rail has another, aviation has yet another. That works for those industries, and in some cases extremely well for customers, if considered within the confines of that industry. After all, few can say that nobody has benefitted from a policy decision to liberalise air space, bringing on the boom in low cost airlines.

Mobility as a Service looks across these silos and looks to deliver a good service to the end customer. To realise its benefits not only requires policy interventions, but a new approach to how transport policy is developed.

There are a variety of ways that governments can intervene in markets in policy terms, but a big challenge with Mobility as a Service is that the future of this emerging field is uncertain. Policy making, by design or by accident, seeks to provide certainty or is dependent upon it.

In the words of a civil servant participating in the workshop:

Mobility as a Service is fast emerging, so the traditional policy making procedures are not up to keeping up with this pace. We need to explore new ways of making policy.

The workshop discussion was framed by these developments. Participants were introduced to OneTeamGov, a community led by civil servants across Whitehall with the close engagement of outside organisations. It focusses on changing and reforming policy and public services for citizens through practical action. They are guided by a set of principles, which are:

  • Work in the open and positively
  • Take practical action
  • Experiment and iterate
  • Be diverse and inclusive
  • Care deeply about citizens
  • Work across borders
  • Embrace technology

The focus of their work is on quick, practical actions, and developing policy through engagement and experimentation. Hence why this is ideal for developing policy for Mobility as a Service.

The TravelSpirit workshop session started off by identifying the challenges policymakers face in developing and delivering an open mobility as a service. What was great about this discussion was that out of a group of 20, only 6 actually identified themselves as ‘policy people’, with just one in central government. So policy makers were able to share their challenges with non-policy people, and those people in turn were able to provide their perspective on the challenges.

In the second part of the session, the group focussed on practical actions. In such discussions, it is easy to get side-tracked into large-scale interventions like changes in law, or be very general in the solutions (e.g. do more experiments). Instead, the group was prompted to think of more creative, and short term solutions.

The group discussion was also useful in terms of ‘flushing out’ the large scale interventions and general solutions, so that the group could focus on more detailed, practical action. To finish with, all members of the group wrote down an action that they and the group could take in the short term to meet the challenges discussed.

The discussion and findings were very broad and diverse – a flavour is set out below.

What we found

A big challenge is that policy making is too solution led, rather than being open to solutions. How does public policy keep up with this? Or does the public not understand, through a lack of knowledge? There is a specific link to MaaS here. How to determine what the solution is can be an easy sell, but not good for policy making.

If you have to explain it to a policy maker, does it exist? Mobility as a Service seems to be a policy maker’s idea, with policy makers looking to will it into life.

Perhaps we (transport planners) approach MaaS from too much of a public policy approach. MaaS could be led by consumer choice, and so it is up to regulators to interpret and be flexible.

Everyone at the conference and in this group has their own definition of MaaS based on our own objectives, and what we want MaaS to achieve. The current consulting framework is not only slow, but is suited to those who are willing to write in and who want to be consulted.

Reflecting this, perhaps a critical challenge is to develop an ongoing, flexible roadmap for the policy making for MaaS process? Trying to visualise this is a huge challenge in itself, but is critical in helping to sell the process and the means of developing policy accordingly. Not all policy makers are sold on the concept of MaaS remember!

There is a danger that we could be seen as too anti-car. That leads to the question – are we trying to get people out of cars as an objective of MaaS? Instead, the focus could be on realistic solutions for local authorities and other policy makers. Focus on economics, social impacts, and policy making instead?

MaaS also needs to understand how it meets the wider policy need. This then allows for a more realistic policy discussion. Ask not what policy can do for MaaS, but what MaaS can do for policy! What opportunities does MaaS bring in the likes of health policy, economic policy, social policy to name a few?

Critical to a lot of this is developing a convincing story. Identifying what the compelling narrative is, so that the proposition of MaaS for policy makers of all levels is overwhelming. There is a risk with this that it won’t deliver to those level of benefits, however. So what can government of all levels do to kick start this debate on what the compelling narrative is?

There has not been much discussion on local authorities. For them, a huge issue is risk. How can you develop new, innovative policies where there is no evidence, or business case for doing so? There is an urgent needs to get smaller towns and cities to have the power and confidence to deliver MaaS style solutions, and to make a difference.

It is also concerning about the breadth of representatives in the MaaS discussion. There are a lot of policy makers and businesses. What about community groups? Volunteers? Under-represented socio-economic and demographic groups? A priority should be to get out there and listen much more.

The UK Government Digital Service is an excellent model for engagement. There is a need to do much more revealed preference research, with good quality data and use of ethnography. Real data, based on real behaviours, not what people tell us that they do!

There is also a need to move the general conversation in transport away from the commute. Not everything is about providing for commuters!!

More discussion of these issues on James Gleave’s Transport Futures blog.