It’s a basic human truth – when people are keen to find out something, like how to get somewhere, the process needs to be fast, simple and effortless.
That’s why commuters have fallen hard for route planner apps such as Citymapper and on-demand services like Uber. These are two ingredients to a rapidly evolving phenomenon known as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Imagine being able to tailor your route based on cost, convenience, comfort or speed. It’s a profound shift in mindset from ownership to instant access.
According to Dr Nick Knorr, programme director of customer experience at mobility innovation centre Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), “75% of all journeys in the UK involve pain”. In the age of Spotify, Netflix and Airbnb, one size will not fit all. Passengers need no longer accept delays on poorly maintained public transport, fester in traffic jams or waste days looking for a parking space because they have no choice.
“Transport is so big that nobody can do it alone”
With MaaS global revenues expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2030, there is understandably a lot of excitement in this space. But when you consider who’s involved in this bold vision – traveller, app creator, transport operators, payment facilitator, data provider and regulator – it’s clear that serious discussion and collaboration are required. As Sampo Hietanen, CEO of Finnish mobility operator MaaS Global, states: “Transport is so big that nobody can do it alone.”
That’s why TSC recently decided to hold a conference to explore the opportunity for MaaS in the UK. Here are some of the key insights and discussion points from the day.
1. Private sector will shape public transport
MaaS not only requires an agile approach to transport solutions but lean process management also, two things Uber and other tech disruptors excel at. Lucy Yu, head of MaaS at the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), explains: “If you can truly understand the individual then you can provide a service tailored to them.”
She urged that the public sector learn from successful startups, such as OneLane (a ride and care service for busy parents), by better harnessing usage data and employing flexible routing and timetabling.
Stephen Joseph, executive director for the Campaign for Better Transport, went further, suggesting that social enterprises should be commissioned by local authorities to provide mobility solutions.
2. Open data, better solutions
In their MaaS report, TSC identified interoperability as being crucial to a flourishing MaaS ecosystem: “A MaaS provider shares data on the mobility needs of customers, to help transport operators improve their service. Data provider stakeholders need to offer this capability by linking [the two].”
Giles Bailey, director of international affairs at TravelSpirit, advocates such an ‘open source’ approach. He spoke about finding efficient solutions that complement existing transport options and empowering local communities of all ages, not just big cities and commuters.
One example he gave is Simply Connect, a data-led small vehicle transport service that integrates with the public system in suburban areas and on the outskirts where bus services are more infrequent.
3. Incentives could be crucial
To better manage capacity in a MaaS network, travellers should be encouraged to choose particular options. Dynamic pricing is one tactic, as this CIVITAS report mentions.
But there are others. Tony Lynch, founder of corporate ridesharing platform Faxi, shared a case study about Santander in Milton Keynes. There, a large proportion of its 2,115 employees would compete for only 300 car park spaces every day. After analysing commuter routes, they found that 68% of drivers could ride share with others living 10 minutes or less from them. Spaces were offered first to those transporting co-workers and using the Faxi app to track a shared journey.
As a result of running a similar system at Vodafone’s head office in Newbury, participating drivers save £1,000 per year while passenger commuters shave one hour off their daily journey.
4. MaaS will expand from access to experiences
This autumn, Helsinki-based MaaS Global is launching a unique multimodal travel app. Whim, which has been pitched as “the Netflix of transportation”, delves into the world of gamification, offering users the ability to earn extra points by using public transport and cash them in for prizes such as a weekend with a Tesla.
This is all part of their effort to make Whim an irresistible proposition. “MaaS needs to be more than a trip planner, better than owning a car [which sits idle 96% of the time] and cheaper than the €300 monthly investment,” suggests Kaj Pyyhtiä, MaaS Global’s chief customer experience officer.
“It should know more about my needs than I do,” he added, while also allowing the customer to “be more spontaneous”. He later predicted that MaaS would become a “services platform business”, describing a scenario where he books an Uber and expects his coffee “to be hot and steaming” and his Spotify to be playing when he gets in the car, before jumping on a plane to have the meal he’d ordered beforehand.
5. Customers will have their own personal concierge
IBM global financing director Paul Campion confidently described MaaS as “going from A to B without worrying about what’s in between”. One way that might happen is through cognitive computing, a form of artificial intelligence where a system learns what the customer wants, understands the context and adapts accordingly.
Essentially, it tries to be more human. This is IBM’s Watson technology. “Why does my phone still force me to do all the work?” asked Campion. “I have to tell the app where I want to go. Current technology is too procedural. I don’t want to follow options. And why can’t I ask it questions?”
In the age of Siri and Google Assistant, travellers will expect in-transit responsiveness. Particularly the elderly and disabled who will demand what Pat Jordan, professor of design psychology at Middlesex University, called the “predictability of accessibility”. Will there be space for my wheelchair on this bus you suggest I take? And will my friend also be on there?