Webinar Recap: What MaaS Means For The Transportation Industry & How Transit Agencies Can Prepare For It

Abigail Levner

Abigail Levner

May 26, 2019

On May 8th we hosted a webinar with David Zipper, a Resident Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, where he leads the Initiative on Trans-Atlantic Urban Mobility. Zipper also advises numerous startups and mayors about the future of cities, and is also working with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to reshape its programming in the era of new mobility services. His writing about cities and mobility has been published in The Atlantic/CityLab, Slate and Fast Company.

The following are the key points discussed during the webinar. You can also watch the recording here.

Here are David Zipper’s comments:

If MaaS is the answer – what is the question?

For decades we had a fixed way to navigate a city in Europe and in the States. We could drive, take a taxi, bus, train, walk or bike. It was essentially a choice between transit and walking. However in the last 10-15 years, there was an explosion of new mobility services; car-share, bike share, electric bike share, scooters, microtransit ride hail etc.. This explosion of new mobility services comes from a variety of changes that include the rise of smartphones, that allow you to hail a vehicle or unlock a vehicle or scooter. The popularity of scooters and bike shares also came about from technology changes, thanks to the rapid Improvement in the quality of batteries and specifically small batteries. We’ve ended up with is a whole array of new mobility services that are in tandem or maybe even competing with those traditional modes we had in the past. This is what really unlocks Mobility-as-a-Service.

The MaaS opportunity

MaaS is really a big opportunity for cities to unite all of these modes, old and new. MaaS means you have this knitted together combination of services that can be accessed by an urban commuter and allows them to rely on a multi-modal mix of transportation for their daily needs, instead of relying on a personal vehicle. The idea of MaaS is that it’s so easy to navigate in this combination of services, so that even if you do have a personal vehicle in a city you will drive it less often or even give it up.

The MaaS vision for the masses

This is the vision behind MaaS. It gets people excited and it can unlock a whole range of benefits. With less cars we’d have less pollution. Our health will improve since people will exercise more: cycling and walking in the city replaces sitting in a car. With fewer cars we will have less congestion and we’d probably need less on-street parking spaces that can be turned into wider sidewalks, parks etc.

The 4 building blocks of MaaS

Multimodal trip plans:

You can find pretty good multimodal planning in Google Maps as well as a variety of transit apps. This is the piece we have made most progress in: I want to go from here to there. Maybe I want to walk to the subway, hop on a train and then connect to a ride hailIng service.

Multimodal ticketing:

This is a real necessity for MaaS. You not only identify how you want to get from here to there across modes, but also you can actually purchase a ticket that will cover most modes, so if I want to pick a certain combination of transit and rideshare or transit and ride hail, I can do that in one app and be on my way. This is much harder and much trickier but it’s really important for MaaS.

Subscription model:

This is the essence of MaaS. You’re not only able to purchase particular tickets but you can also buy a basket of mobility goods. Using a subscription means you pay a hundred euros/dollars for a given number of transportation services in a city. It should include a monthly transit pass as well as car share credits, taxi service credits and even bike share credits. We are just starting to see the first efforts here.

Customer Support:

This last piece may not be as intuitive as the others but it’s really important to achieve.You have to be able to provide some assurance to the commuter that if something goes wrong during that multimodal trip you’ve provided them, there will be someone to hold their hand and get them on their way. This may be expensive and difficult but it’s really important.

These four building blocks are important in understanding where we are trying to get to. Where we are right now is a little bit different.

MaaS in the Flesh

David Zipper then discussed several versions of MaaS available today:

Towards a walled garden: Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado is the first place in the world where you can purchase transit tickets via the Uber app. This is part of Uber’s overall strategy. They’re providers of transportation but they would like to create a MaaS solution within their own app. So you’re not only getting to their app to hail a ride, but you could get a whole array of mobility services. It would be really interesting to watch what’s happening in Denver as they explore this option, but this option also contains a risk to transit agencies and cities – the risk of walled gardens.

A walled garden is a business model that many tech companies use. Think about the App Store that can elevate an app in the store or take it down. Uber would like to create a curated experience of navigating a city within their own app. That means that if you were a transit agency your transit service can be elevated to the top of the app or to its bottom. Some services will not be offered as part of the walled garden, such as another ride hailing app. Keeping an eye on the walled gardens that are emerging in mobility would be a challenge for transit agencies. They are concerned that the app would cater to the interests of the company providing the garden but not necessarily to those of the commuters.

One mobility app to rule them all: Helsinki, Finland

A different model from the Denver one is the Helsinki model. Finland has really been at the front of Mobility as a Service, and in this case MaaS is provided through a third party company. There’s a company called Maas Global. Its app is called Whim. Using Whim and its subscription service you can order car share or bike share from HSL, the local transit service. This app is really catching on and people are purchasing tickets via this third party app. The app is breaking the direct relationship of the commuter with mass transit agencies and replacing that with a direct relationship between the commuter and the app. This, in turn, may allow the app providers to charge high commissions on the tickets. Can this ultimately become another cost for transit systems around the world?

Jack of all trades? Berlin, Germany

Last but not least is the Berlin model, in which the transit agency itself is the provider of MaaS. BVG the transit provider in Berlin has been working with a British company to create a MaaS solution within the transit agency itself. As a concept this is really appealing to many transit agencies but there’s a risk here too, the question is how agile can an agency really be? Can they really create apps and promote MaaS? Can they be flexible enough and offer a good experience to commuters? With frequent updates? If we look at the Google Store the average rating of ticketing apps is not good and they’re not updated as nearly as often as they should be. For an app to really catch on with commuters they have to do better than that.

In short the three models are:

  • Mobility providers providing MaaS like a ride hail company or bike share company
  • Third-party providers
  • Transit agencies becoming MaaS providers in addition to their core business

The changing mobility space

Right now, a lot of companies in the mobility space seem to be very excited about MaaS, some have raised millions to create MaaS solutions but it’s less clear that urban commuters themselves are jumping on this, as mentioned in the Helsinki example. Earlier research shows that less than 1 out of 200 tickets is being purchased through Whim and more than 99% of purchases will be going through the transit provider in Helsinki, presumably the city that has the most advanced MaaS offering if the world.

Another issue is that MaaS solutions are predicated on people having smartphones, but what does this mean for low income communities? Would they be able to take part? It’s an important concern for agencies.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about MaaS. Cities worldwide are really eager to reduce reliance on private car trips. Cities like Oslo and Madrid ban cars from downtown areas. Now Edinburgh is going in the same direction. This creates a real incentive for new modes of transit, and a reason why MaaS should catch on.

In this era of rapidly evolving transportation modes with AVs and flying cars etc, MaaS could become the framework for the coming years and potentially decades.

Here are Roni Floman’s comments:

The MaaS and SaaS connection

SaaS is an enabler for MaaS

SaaS is a method of software delivery and licensing in which software is accessed online via a subscription, rather than bought and installed on individual computers. So if we’re thinking about it from the transit operators’ point of view we’re really talking about moving away from scheduling, planning or any operational software installed in a room with servers in an office to a platform that is web-based (accessible through the web) and can utilize the huge processing power of the web. The best form of SaaS today is a cloud native application, where the app is distributed on the cloud and can as a result quickly connect to other systems and process data really quickly.

MaaS is cloud native meaning all the apps a sit on the cloud, figuring out who needs to go where and what’s the optimal way. As mentioned earlier some apps that need to be communicating to deliver MaaS would be apps through which you can plan, order and pay for your daily trips. The scooter will need to be connected to the payment system, to the driver’s app, to the ride hailing app – to all modes of transportation on your planned trip. The cloud is what enables connecting all these links.

Yet in today’s planning and scheduling world, we still have discrete on-premise silos, pieces of software that reside alone in a room in a remote office. Everything the operator is using for their planning and scheduling, is in that room including the local database. This infrastructure is significantly slower than could native inter-connected systems. It certainly isn’t MaaS ready.

Since MaaS exists and operates on the could, only cloud native apps can offer the connectivity necessary for data sharing and analysis required for MaaS.

Topics: Transportation