Mobility as a Service (MaaS) remains a trending term for media platforms and app developers to use. However, David Hensher, Chinh Ho and John Nelson suggest the term should be used more appropriately to describe a fully integrated and sustainable system, rather than just an enhanced travel planning app.
Almost without exception, many media platforms post a growing amount of news items under the heading of Mobility as a Service or MaaS. LinkedIn, for example, is replete with such material (including webinars) promoted in the name of MaaS. But how much of this news is really about MaaS? We had previously tried to clarify what MaaS is and what MaaS is not with a benchmark definition, but it still seems as if the app developers (or more accurately the travel planner folks) and many transport operators, continue to promote their new tools as MaaS.
A most recent one (there are too many to mention) is Scottish MaaS trial goes live (launched on 21 June). It is not MaaS. It is a multi-modal journey planner. The promo video states that it is “travel made simple” and a ‘travel companion’. While this is a nice idea and potentially represents a step-forward in terms of meeting traveller needs with an integrated ticketing and payment function, overly promoting such an app as MaaS suggests that many MaaS promoters on social media don’t get, or refuse to get, what constitutes MaaS and the four levels of MaaS integration.
To clarify what MaaS is, and is not, ITLS researchers, together with MaaS pioneers and advocators, have put forward a benchmark definition as follows:
‘MaaS is a framework for delivering a portfolio of multi-modal mobility services that places the user at the centre of the offer. MaaS frameworks are ideally designed to achieve sustainable policy goals and objectives. MaaS is an integrated transport service brokered by an integrator through a digital platform. A digital platform provides information, booking, ticketing, payment (as PAYG and/or subscription plans), and feedback that improves the travel experience. The MaaS framework can operate at any spatial scale(i.e., urban or regional or global) and cover any combination of multi-modal and non-transport-related multi-service offerings, including the private car and parking, whether subsidised or not by the public sector. MaaS is not simply a digital version of a travel planner, nor a flexible transport service (such as Mobility on Demand), nor a single shared transport offering (such as car sharing). ‘Emerging MaaS’ best describes MaaS offered on a niche foundation. This relates to situations where MaaS is offered on a limited spatial scale, to a limited segment of society or focused on limited modes of transport. The MaaS framework becomes mainstream when the usage by travellers dominates a spatial scale and the framework encompasses a majority of the modes of transport. All the other variants that do not meet our definition might be referred to as ‘Aspiring MaaS’ given the normal usage of ‘aspiring’ having ‘hope’ or ‘ambitions’. (Hensher et al. 2021)
Let us try and simplify this position in a way that may be more persuasive in ensuring that MaaS is properly ascribed to, since if we continue to promote any mobility idea as MaaS, particularly the growth industry of travel planning apps, then the real fear is that we enter into a downward spiral of time wasted on debate and effort that amounts to nothing more than confusion, frustration and lack of progress on what can really make a difference to delivering sustainable (and commercially attractive) solutions and improved traveller satisfaction.
Critically, MaaS needs to show value in both sustainability and profitability to have buy-in from both government/society and business. Without these two critical value propositions, and buy-in from critical stakeholders in the MaaS eco-system, MaaS will likely develop as a niche service, and techno/app developers can (and will) lead the debates which may not deliver real long term value for society. How exactly we achieve buy-in from both business and government is yet unknown, but the evidence we have amassed so far suggests that it is difficult and requires a lot of collaboration and trust between stakeholders, which is far from assured.
Unless MaaS brokers/aggregators can negotiate with transportation network companies (TNCs), and government, to use a cross-subsidy strategy to fund MaaS services that deliver both socially acceptable sustainability and commercial goals, MaaS is unlikely to ever be profitable or societally sustainable. In most markets in general, any unprofitable products and services would likely receive no significant investment from businesses to obtain scalability unless there is a high level of confidence in turning the corner in the (foreseeable) future. MaaS is no different. Without the possibility of scalability, MaaS becomes ‘another’ initiative in the government’s list of initiatives to prioritise. The path to scalability currently seems to suffer from a dominant focus on the next enhanced digital platform and very little else.
So what is the value proposition likely to be that we should support? If it is agreed that MaaS is unlikely to be commercial and thus is only of value if it delivers on sustainability goals, then it is doubtful it will go beyond what we can achieve already through the existing ways of delivering transport.
This is the big question. How can MaaS really make a difference? It may be that an App developer offering better and timely information remains relevant and convenient for some, but we ask the promoters to stop calling this MaaS since it only improves travel information, although this improvement is still valuable (and the addition of other contextual / points of interest information is also useful). But does it change travel behaviour enough to claim an impact on sustainable goals? Collective evidence, we have to date, suggests that a MaaS app will not change travel behaviour to deliver sustainability outcomes, but a fully integrated MaaS system can in time (Ho et al. 2021). Without the need to show complicated modelling evidence, this early finding is easy to comprehend.
It remains a challenge to get key players in the intelligent mobility space to recognise that offering a mixture of modes with the exact same levels of services such as travel times, reliability, and frequency (which are the real drivers of traveller behavior) already offered outside of a MaaS eco-system, with PAYG financial discounts associated with some journey planning Apps, can hardly be claimed as added-value for travellers. This is why we would prefer if the great majority of App developers and transport suppliers and their advisers start talking about ‘Enhanced Travel Information Service’ or ETIS and not MaaS!