Our understanding of transportation has transformed considerably over the last decade due to several converging market forces, social trends and advancements in technology. Today, transportation is more complex than it has ever been, but it’s on the brink of exciting new opportunities.
The most transformative process in transportation and one which holds the potential to reinvent the experiences for commuters and transport agencies is the inception of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). But what exactly is it, and can it really define the future of transport?
Unlocking the Mystery of MaaS
MaaS can be characterised as a better, faster, more connected and personal transportation that can bring benefits to cities, communities and transit agencies. Yet, defining MaaS on a more granular level is often a contentious subject. Conversations about MaaS are happening everywhere from government chambers to start-up product planning sessions – but all with varying definitions.
The MaaS Alliance, a public-private partnership created by the European Union, defines MaaS as “the integration of various forms of transport […] into a single mobility service accessible on demand,” which provides “an alternative to the use of the private cars that may be as convenient, more sustainable, help to reduce congestion and constraints in transport capacity, and can be even cheaper.”
Few definitions of MaaS today mention the wider public transit sector. Even fewer touch upon the part that local and central government bodies might play in bringing MaaS to local communities. Cubic defines MaaS as a combination of public and private transportation services within a given regional environment that provides holistic, optimal and people-centred travel options. It enables end-to-end journeys paid for by the user as a single charge, which aims to achieve key public equity objectives.
Cubic believes that MaaS can increase the modes of transport available to you, whilst simplifying how you manage that journey by having one user account.
The Technology Layer
MaaS is powered by mobile, big data and IoT, three technologies that are transforming the way services are consumed today. Consumers across retail and mass media are already enjoying the benefits from improved technology including real-time information and personalised capabilities all at the touch of a button, and in the same way, the transportation sector can also reap the rewards.
Increased connectivity through smartphone usage and the rising adoption of IoT devices is creating enormous amounts of data. That data can be harnessed, analysed and applied to improve operations, efficiency and quality of life in cities, as well as drive further innovation. In 2017 alone, humanity generated more data than in the previous 5,000 years of our existence.
As the volume of data increases so do innovations in machine learning and AI where masses of data is quickly analysed for more intelligent insights and services. The more people (and devices) are connected to the internet, the faster the pace of innovation for transportation solutions.
On the most basic level, advancements in connectivity mean that transportation operators can outfit vehicles with onboard Wi-Fi or other sensors to enable Internet connectivity during travel to enhance the user experience.
On a more complex level, connectivity enables transit agencies to invest in vehicle-to infrastructure (V2I) technology that helps vehicles and their drivers make better sense of their surroundings, analyse traffic and weather information, and make subsequent adjustments to the service, increasing its efficiency. On the ultimate level, connectivity empowers the development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CVs and AVs), where it’s expected that 98 per cent of vehicles will be connected to the Internet by 2020.
Changing Consumer Habits
Technology is forcing city authorities, technologists and transit operators to rethink how future transportation services might need to be delivered. Another driving factor is changing consumer habits, largely fuelled by the “sharing” or “gig” economy. This boils down to one simple truth: we now live in a world where consumer demand, rather than any other driver, determines the delivery of services; where usage trumps possession; access rather than ownership is king, and where consumers’ immediate needs can be satisfied with the tap of an app.
This new economy currently attracts more than 22.4 million consumers annually and transportation is its second biggest category. Thanks to companies like Lyft and Uber, it claims more than 7.3 million monthly consumers and $5.6 billion in annual spending.
This shift is encouraging the growth of personalised, flexible, and sometimes informal mobility services. From obvious examples such as Uber to smaller, “micro transit” providers, the idea of on-demand transit has captivated transportation for good.
The Benefits of MaaS
Although this provides travellers with an increased number of options to help them get from point A to point B, the need for multiple travel passes or apps makes the situation more complex.
This is where MaaS can help. Ultimately, MaaS gives consumers the freedom to travel the way they desire, by removing friction and offering choice in facilitating end-to-end journeys. MaaS encourages travellers to pursue other forms of transportation than the private car, presenting a cost-conscious transportation alternative. Commuters use a single account for all travel transactions and information – be it public transit, cycling or Uber – which gives them easy access to journey-planning information and guarantees fare transparency.
The wider potential of MaaS is its ability to reduce congestion in cities by reducing the reliance on private vehicles as a main means of transportation, also increasing road space. By encouraging people to travel by shared means of transportation or to enter their vehicles into car-pooling schemes, MaaS limits the number of private car trips and miles driven. For city authorities, this makes predicting traffic flows and reacting to traffic events much easier, and as a result, transit operations and their efficiency increases. This reduction in vehicles can also have a direct impact on sustainability, promoting more socially and environmentally friendly forms of transportation, and a high standard of living.
Additionally, the integration and aggregation of all transportation-related information from a variety of sources and modes would give cities unprecedented insight into travel patterns. They would be able to observe, analyse and draw conclusions about how travel decisions are made and what influences them. 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 and communities.
Full insights into our travel data would also help re-route demand to assist those portions of the transportation network that are struggling the most. Cities could advise when a preferred route is unavailable and offer useful alternatives that would get us to our destinations on time but that would also be the optimum choice for the entire network. The quality of route-finding services would greatly improve, enhancing the flow of traffic through major corridors.
Similarly, integrating with private transportation operators allows public agencies to augment or change their service offerings to better tailor transportation solutions to the ridership. Agencies would no longer be forced to deliver a standard service based only on the availability of infrastructure.
Discussing MaaS will increase as time progresses. It represents a seismic shift in not only transforming the face of transport for consumer and transit operators, but also promotes a more sustainable and varied experiences with transport. Yet for MaaS to truly meet its potential, all parties must come to a unanimous definition of what MaaS entails, through a stronger understanding and investment in technology innovation and changing consumer habits.
Andy Taylor, Strategy Director at Cubic Transportation Systems
Image Credit: Mikko Lemola / iStock