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How Mobility as a Service can make Better Places

26 October 2016
`In a possible future, communities could create their own MaaS platforms, not just to provide transport services, but as a means to complement `hard measures` to improve the sense of place`
`In a possible future, communities could create their own MaaS platforms, not just to provide transport services, but as a means to complement `hard measures` to improve the sense of place`


For Mobility as a Service to succeed in cities, it should not just aim to meet the needs of travellers and service providers, but also contribute to the livability of places. James Gleave, Foresight Analyst, Transport Systems Catapult

The Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) has defined Mobility as a Service (MaaS) as 'using a digital interface to source and manage the provision of a transport related service(s) which meets the mobility requirements of a customer'. There are two core strengths to the MaaS business model, according to TSC; servitisation, whereby the MaaS provider creates a value proposition that comprises a ‘bundle’ of different mobility services; and data sharing, whereby organisations in the MaaS ‘ecosystem’ – including the MaaS provider – share data on the mobility needs of customers to help transport operators improve their service. 

'Tailored travel options' are possible using existing services, whether you want the fastest route, the lowest-cost route, the most direct route, or the most environmentally-friendly route. All of this has been enabled by the onset of technology both at the back end (more open data and the crashing price of processing power and data storage) and at the front end (such as the ubiquity of smartphone technology).

MaaS is a relatively new model, but is beginning to take shape in various forms in cities around the world. A kind of MaaS model, Hannovermobil 2.0, is already up and running in Hannover and Vienna (Smile), and across Germany via Deutsche Bahn’s Qixxit, all based around an integrated mobility platform. Some of the latest service models have monthly mobility plans, giving users certain allowances relating to transport modes including cars, shared cars, taxis, buses, trains, ride-share, trams and bike share, and including the management of ticketing and payments. 

MaaS is being trialled in the Helsinki region of Finland via the app Whim, a proprietary platform built on open data. Helsinki differs to Germany and Austria's offering as its MaaS initiative has been developed by a private company for local use, but aims to scale globally. In Helsinki, a standard monthly fee of euro 240 currently includes unlimited travel on public transport, as well as a fixed amount of 'points' to be used flexibly on taxi journeys and rental cars. More transport options will be added in the near future.

MaaS and livability

But for Mobility as a Service to succeed in cities, it should not just aim to meet the needs of travellers and service providers, but also contribute to the livability of places. This results in considering MaaS in terms of two policy goals: one of impact on the use of single occupancy cars (increase or decrease), and one of its approach to delivery (community or commercial).

For the former, much of the current focus has been on developing platforms and services to integrate into the existing service offer. Whilst some offer multi-modality, many MaaS commercial offer run the risk of reaffirming driving as a primary choice for getting around cities. Such offers, such as Ford Smart Mobility, Uber and Drive Now, tend to revolve around cars. Whilst these offers, particularly from automotive companies, are pivoting their business strategies with the intention of providing whole mobility solutions and redefining car ownership, the car is still integral to this model of mobility.

The MaaS model should still lead to an overall reduction in congestion, as multi-modal choices are supported and encouraged by different MaaS providers. This is largely dependant upon the context in which services are delivered and in the influence of other technologies on the emerging MaaS business models. For instance, the influence of autonomous vehicles on overall congestion is modelled to vary significantly according to the ownership and Mobility as a Service models that they enable, with shared ownership vehicles reducing vehicle miles significantly, but a continuation of current consumption models doing quite the reverse. Should MaaS service increase the use of vehicles, more congestion may mean late deliveries and added costs for businesses, whereas to a community, it means poor air quality and unsafe streets.

MaaS and placemaking

But it is in considering Mobility as a Service solutions as a support of, and contributor to, placemaking that it can really start to add value. As much as we need commercial focus to drive the market for MaaS products and to 'servitise' the offer, what is also needed is a community-led element to the MaaS offering. Communities are multi-faceted, and this is where the concept of placemaking can play a significant role in MaaS.

Placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm. More than simply promoting better urban design, placemaking facilitates patterns of actual use, including mobility patterns. A fundamental element of place-making is to bring communities together in physical or virtual spaces for exploration, and to work towards a consensus on specific challenges, and on the visions needed to make better streets and places. This is where MaaS comes in.

In a possible future, communities could create their own MaaS platforms, not just to provide transport services, but as a means to complement 'hard measures' to improve the sense of place. On-street planting, speed reduction measures, and pop-up parks could be complemented by MaaS platforms that route traffic away from these streets, but encourage foot and cycle traffic to enjoy the routes instead.

MaaS can also benefit from principles of placemaking by encouraging collaboration and the community development of data sources and software tools to enable others to build their own solutions. The work of Mobility Lab in Arlington, Virginia, is well known for taking this approach. Closer to home, TravelSpirit in Greater Manchester is seeking to develop an open source community to develop the tools, software, and data for people to build their own MaaS service offers. A committed community, working together with the technology and mobility sectors, to collaboratively deliver something greater than the sum of their parts. Does that sound familiar?

A place-making style, community-driven MaaS doesn’t just happen. As well as a group of committed people, it needs a substantial investment of time to understand the process, options, and to build capacity to enable it all to happen. Those of us experienced in placemaking know this well, but incorporating technology is a whole new proposition. On one hand, this entails traditional engagement and co-design principles. But a new element is the mixing in of technical know-how and innovation in the technology sector to leverage open data and open source solutions for community advantage.

Such communities can, and do, spontaneously appear and deliver big things, with pro-active public sector authorities providing support and direction where needed. But policy-level statements of intent go a long way. Now is not just the opportunity for national and local governments state their intention to support MaaS, but to state what sort approach to MaaS they are seeking. This is not to state a technical approach, but to state an ethos by which MaaS should operate. An ethos that not just supports commercial models, but commercial models that are supported by, and support, community-based solutions.

This is a big challenge for public authorities, particularly in policy environments that encourage a ‘wait and see’ approach to market operation and failure. But public authorities need to move from being just providers of transport services, to being enablers. This could be a physical place-making experience, supported with a technological angle to support the actual platform development. There are many ways to approach placemaking; the key thing is to not be distracted by the technology. Technology itself is never a solution, only an enabler. Understanding challenges and their context, building consensus and planning a way forward is the hard part.

If MaaS can lead to fewer private vehicles on the roads, the urban realm will benefit through less space dedicated to vehicles and parking – and more to walking and cycling –  cleaner air, more development options and larger parks and green spaces. By enabling communities and companies to develop their MaaS offer, local authorities will enable solutions to transport policy challenges. This way, not only will travellers benefit from this new world of mobility, but our communities will, too.

MaaS and the sharing model

Models and research suggest that one of the keys to reducing congestion and poor air quality, with driverless or driven cars, is the sharing model, meaning the large-scale deployment of shared vehicle fleets that provide on-demand transport. A 2015 report from the International Transport Forum  at the  OECD, Urban Mobility System Upgrade: How Shared Self-driving Cars Could Change City Traffic, modelled the impact of replacing all car and bus trips in a city with mobility provided through fleets of shared vehicles. The simulation was based on real mobility and network data from Lisbon, Portugal. 

Findings suggested that congestion disappeared, traffic emissions were reduced by one third, and 95% less space was required for public parking in the model city served by Shared Taxis and Taxi-Buses. The car fleet needed to service all trips was only 3 per cent of the size of today's fleet. Although each car would be running almost ten times more kilometres than currently, total vehicle-kilometres would be 37% less, even during peak hours. Nearly the same mobility levels can be delivered with 10% of the cars: shared taxis, combined with with high-capacity public transport, could remove 9 out of every 10 cars in a mid-sized European city. A follow-up study in 2016 clarified the picture, suggesting that a public transport system using on-demand shared mobility rather than a traditional system with fixed routes and timetables significantly improves citizens' access to schools, health services and work opportunities. 

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