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Mobility as a Service
Rather than by buying a personal vehicle, people are increasingly purchasing transportation on a trip-by-trip basis.
Mobility as a service (MaaS) is a term used to describe both the idea that we purchase transportation as rides rather than as commodities—such as owning our own cars—as well as the online platforms that combine these ride options into a singular experience.
The platform definition is becoming a more widely used definition of MaaS. While the notion of purchasing rides instead of vehicles has existed at least as long as there has been public transit,the recent explosion of ride purchasing options (rideshare, carshare, microtransit, and micromobility) combined with the growth of smartphone use has tremendously expanded MaaS options. Rather than treating personally owned vehicles as the only mode of transport for the majority of trips, rides on a trip-by-trip basis are starting to become a viable option for more and more people and more types of trips. MaaS platforms or apps provide a seamless experience where a traveler can do some combination of viewing multiple travel mode and provider options, plan routes, reserve rides or vehicles, and pay for them.
Variables to consider
MaaS platforms are still in the early stages of business development and offer varying levels of services. MaaS Level 0 platforms are often a single mobility company offering booking and payment on their own platforms for a single travel mode. Level 1 integrates route and mode options, but does not offer booking or payment options. Google Maps would be an example of a Level 1 MaaS platform. Level 2 is a categorical shift in that it offers integrated routing, booking, and payment options for various modes. Level 3 builds on this to offer subscription options for these services. Level 4 includes policy control and levers that allow governments to shape offerings to support public goals.
Open Platforms vs. Walled Gardens
MaaS is most powerful when it vertically integrates several transportation modes into a single platform. While some platforms are open and allow multiple transportation service providers on the same system, others have attempted to create “Walled Gardens” which give users a single service provider option for each mode, often one owned by the platform provider. For example, private companies such as Uber and Lyft have purchased or created partnerships with various new mobility companies and now allow customers to schedule and pay for any of their company-related services on their apps. While this has quickly expanded MaaS offerings, it is also a barrier to open competition as smaller new mobility providers are unable to compete with the larger companies that have become MaaS platforms. Some public agencies, including transit authorities, offer open platforms with multiple travel mode options within a single app or platform.
Who Runs the Platform?
Currently, MaaS platforms are run by government agencies, transportation service providers, and third-party companies. Government agencies involved in MaaS are typically either municipal governments or transit agencies while Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft have been the primary transportation service providers offering MaaS platforms. Third party companies are companies that do not own vehicle fleets or ‘wheels on the ground.' Who provides the MaaS platform will impact services based on motivations to limit competition, their legal accountability to the public, their degree of transparency, and their nimbleness in operations.
Bundled Services and Data
MaaS platforms offer large opportunities for bundling services—potentially including services unrelated to transportation—within their apps. These apps have the potential to be used multiple times per day as they become essential portals for meeting our transportation needs. With the possibility of MaaS apps commanding large amounts of users’ attention, there may be opportunities for companies to market a wide variety of services on these platforms. At the same time, MaaS platforms will be able to gather large amounts of information about user travel patterns and preferences. This data can be a product sold independently, or a resource used to better customize services and advertising within MaaS apps. However, MaaS ecosystems currently face many challenges related to data including incomplete data, limited Application Programming Interface (API) availability, and a lack of data standards and the universal connectivity infrastructure needed to operate integrated apps and services.
MaaS services can make travelling more convenient than using individually owned vehicles or single, siloed modes of transportation. Unlike driving a car, MaaS services provide individual, one-way trips that do not require users to find or pay for parking at their destination. They offer a range of modes that can allow riders to avoid traffic, move more quickly, travel after drinking, or simply to have a more enjoyable experience than driving. They also offer greater connectivity and help solve first- and last-mile challenges of public transportation. MaaS options also allow riders to use multiple modes on any given trip.
MaaS services can be cheaper to use than personal vehicle ownership. Compared to using a personal vehicle for most transportation needs, MaaS services remove fuel costs, maintenance costs, fees, taxes, insurance, and the need to pay for both short-term and long-term parking. They also remove the need to purchase a personal vehicle in the first place. Instead of being limited to a single mode and a single provider, MaaS allows individuals to compare and select the most affordable mode available. Affordability will, however, vary depending on an individual’s travel pattern and preferred travel mode.
MaaS services can be more widely accessible to a greater number of people. Unlike the usage of personal vehicles, which typically require a significant upfront cost alongside ongoing expenses, MaaS services are often available to people who wouldn’t be able to afford to own and operate a car. They also provide transportation to people who are unable to drive due to age, ability, or because they have lost their license. This accessibility is further bolstered by the ongoing proliferation of new mobility services, particularly in the context of “Smart” city configurations aimed at providing more need-specific transportation options to more people.
MaaS services are not always feasible options in all areas, as they rely on a certain level of density and of infrastructure that is not always present. In particular, more remote and rural areas may not have a range of mobility services available, making MaaS apps ineffective. Additionally, many mobility services require safe and dedicated infrastructure such as bike lanes in order to be feasible. In areas that don’t have adequate density or infrastructure, personal vehicle ownership may remain the dominant transportation paradigm for the foreseeable future.
MaaS services often require the use of digital interfaces when planning, scheduling, and paying for trips. While some MaaS services such as public transit and conventional taxi and shuttle services still offer analog scheduling and cash payment options, many more do not. Additionally, the ability to schedule multiple modes in a single trip is typically tied to an app or website, requiring mobile data or some other form of internet connection in order to use it. People without consistent access to the internet or banking are limited in their ability to use MaaS services.
Implementing MaaS is complicated. While the overall concept is fairly straightforward, its implementation is not. It requires cooperation and trust between multiple transportation providers, alignment with local authorities, technology platform development, agreement on data specifications, functional business models, and the development of user interest. Each of these areas hold multiple barriers within themselves and are competing with entrenched existing mobility options, private vehicles often being the largest.
Transportation services often compete with one another, reducing the incentive for a shared and open MaaS platform. TNCs have been known to draw riders away from public transit, for example, while the convenience of AVs might reduce the usage of micromobility options. If “Walled Gardens” persist, services that operate independently without being part of a larger MaaS platform will be especially at risk.
MaaS user/rider uptake has been slow. Although widely heralded and publicized, users and riders have been reluctant to use MaaS apps. Reasons for this include often limited mobility offerings and service coverage, a lack of public awareness about MaaS programs, a lack of willingness to pay for services, and a lack of appeal for older adults, public transit users, and private vehicle users.
Municipal and regional governments were, early on, the most widespread operators of MaaS services, given that public transit is one of the first examples of MaaS. Cities such as Los Angeles, Portland, Pittsburgh, and Vienna have launched apps or platforms that have bridged multiple MaaS transportation modes together. Municipal and regional governments can operate multiple MaaS options of their own, partner with other MaaS service providers, or both.
Transportation companies such as Uber, Lyft, ZipCar, and Lime operate one or more MaaS services. These services can either complement or compete against municipal MaaS offerings, depending on the circumstances surrounding their operation. Similarly, they can be part of a larger municipality-run MaaS bridging service, or in the case of Uber and Lyft, run vertically integrated or “Walled Garden” MaaS services of their own.
Technology companies such as Google, Apple, Transit App, Cubic, Moovit, and Whim provide MaaS through their mapping and transportation scheduling platforms. Google Maps, for example, can show rates, times, scheduling and routing details across several different MaaS-based transportation modes for a single trip. Whim, meanwhile, offers an all-in-one MaaS platform for participating cities, including routing, booking, and payment and multiple subscription plans for users. Additionally, technology companies involved in the development of AVs could become MaaS providers in the future. These technology companies can provide MaaS services for cities or transit agencies, provide white label MaaS services for a specific transportation company, or act as third parties and offer their own open platforms where any transportation company can participate.
(See here for a summary of leading MaaS companies and cities throughout Europe)
Use case examples
People are using MaaS services as a more convenient alternative to driving. Rather than driving a personal vehicle to off-site work meetings, late-night entertainment, or packed sports venues, people are using MaaS services to skip the hassle of not only driving to and from these events, but finding parking as well. Some people who own personal vehicles are also using MaaS services for commuting when driving would prove considerably less time and cost efficient and more aggravating—many New York City metro commuters, for example.
People who are unable to drive for a variety of reasons are using MaaS services to meet their transportation needs. People under the legal driving age or otherwise prohibited from driving are using MaaS services such as transit and bikeshare as part of their daily commutes and other travel needs. Likewise, people who are disabled, intoxicated, or otherwise unable to safely operate a vehicle are using MaaS services such as ridehailing and transit for both one-off and ongoing transportation needs.
People are using MaaS services when MaaS is the most affordable option available to them. Rather than pay for long-term airport parking when flying out for a long trip, for example, many travellers will instead opt for the comparatively much cheaper route of taking public transit or ridehailing services to the airport. Others use MaaS services in lieu of personal vehicle ownership because using services such as transit and ridehailing instead is more affordable for them in the long term than the ownership, parking, and maintenance of a personal vehicle. This trend has resulted in shrinking parking revenue for airports and cities alike.
Pilots & developments
December 2005 – Google creates and releases the first version of the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), a transit data standard that is widely used by transit agencies across the United States.
2005 – Google creates the Google Transit Trip Planner, a precursor to the transit directions option that is integrated into Google Maps.
2010 – Google adds biking directions to Google Maps, starting in the U.S. and Canada.
2012 – The term “Mobility as a Service” is used publicly for the first time by the Club for New Transport Policy in Finland.
November 2013 – The first mobility as a service (MaaS) monthly subscription model launches as a pilot in Gothenburg, Sweden.
2015/2016 – The Federal Transit Administration announces theMobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox program, a series of grants to be awarded for the purpose of research and development of new mobility solutions. One grant recipient is TriMet, a transit agency in Portland, Oregon. TriMet’s proposal includes using the grant money to develop MaaS offerings by integrating new services into their existing trip planner platform.
June 2016 – The Whim app launches in Helsinki, Finland, and is the first example of MaaS integrated into smartphone technology. The Whim app allows users to plan out and pay for trip using a variety of transportation options.
June 2017 – The app WienMobil launches in Vienna, Austria. The app integrates multiple mobility solutions and is considered one of the most successful MaaS apps in the world.
September 2018 – Lyft begins to add public transit information into the Lyft app in Santa Monica, California. Users in Santa Monica can view nearby public transit options within the app.
July 2018 – The number of trips taken on the Whim app reaches 1 million trips to date.
October 2018 – Uber begins to offer users an option to book JUMP bikes and scooters from their app. The app integration begins in Santa Monica and expands to other cities over the course of the year.
November 2018 – Lyft acquires Motivate, the largest bikeshare service in the United States, and announces plans to integrate bikeshare options into their app.
March 2019 – TriMet, the transit agency of Portland, Oregon releases their new trip planner app to the public. The app integrates public transit, ridesharing (Uber), carsharing (SHARE NOW), and bikesharing (BIKETOWN) into one trip planning tool. Funding for this app is provided, in part, by the MOD Sandbox grant.
May 2019 – In Denver, Colorado Uber integrates public transportation into the Uber app, creating an option for users to buy bus and train tickets in the Uber app.
August 2019 – Google Maps begins integrating transit directions with ridesharing, walking and biking directions.
January 2021 – Cubic - the largest provider of transport fare collection services - launched UMO (in partnership with Moovit), an integrated platform that allows users to plan, reserve, and pay fares on public and private transport modes.
February 2021 – GoogleMaps expands to support (in limited locations) the purchase of public transportation tickets and parking payment through the app.
June 2021 – MobilityData convenes a working group to develop GOFS (General On-Demand Feed Specification) that would extend GTFS to include on-demand capabilities.
Policies, Pilots, and approaches
A topological approach to Mobility as a Service: A proposed tool for understanding requirements and effects, and for aiding the integration of societal goals
“The purpose of this paper is to develop a topological approach to characterizing the MaaS concept in order to: 1) facilitate more meaningful discussions of the MaaS concept, 2) enable the ‘comparison of’ different services, 3) understand MaaS’ requirements and effects in terms of society, business, users/ customers, and technology, and 4) aid in the integration of societal goals.”
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