In an increasingly digital world, we are all getting used to accessing what we want at the touch of a button — from new shoes to sushi. Transportation is no exception. Following the rapid expansion of transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, the app has become key to how millions of people move around, challenging fixed transit systems and timetables.
More recently, they’ve been joined by fleets of bikes and e-scooters too. This should be great news for travelers. But, as the U.S. ‘scooter wars’ of 2018 showed, our streets and sidewalks have become something of a battleground as everyone jostles for space.
A BUMPY RIDE
With their services launched in cities almost overnight, initial collaboration between TNCs, bike share, e-scooter companies and city governments has been sparse to none. In response, city authorities have had to quickly develop policies and legislation to respond to and regulate these new transportation solutions and platforms. One issue is that these services can often add to cities’ congestion, pollution and other transportation challenges. According to a recent study, ride-hailing apps generated an additional 5.7 billion miles of driving, often without passengers, in the most populated cities — an overall increase of 160 percent.
A NEW WAY TO TRAVEL
A potential answer to this and city’s other transportation challenges is shared Mobility as a Service (MaaS). This approach brings together individual MaaS options – both public and private, such as trains, buses, ride hailing and sharing schemes for cars, bikes and scooters, taxis, and shuttles/pods for first and last mile connections to high-capacity, fixed-route service or point-to-point service when fixed-route service doesn’t exist or is infrequent – in one place; leveraging the latest digital innovations to provide an integrated point-to-point service to users accessible via a single mobile application (‘app’) and payment channel.
Described as the 'Spotify of transportation', shared MaaS approaches — which are being pioneered in cities, states and countries across the world — create the potential for consumers to shift from an ownership and/or single provider model of transport use to paying for travel as a service. If done well, shared MaaS can promote more sustainable decision making: enabling users to compare different transport modes on costs, emissions and flexibility, and so on; and cities to incentivize, promote and encourage travel behaviors that support their citizens and city’s long-term success.
For example, an inclusivity-focused MaaS approach could increase access to education, work and healthcare for groups sometimes underserved by public and private mobility solutions. This includes women, whose travel patterns don’t always match fixed routes and schedules, older people, and those with low incomes, with disabilities or living further out of town.
It has also long been argued that parking in cities is irrevocably linked to issues such as urban sprawl, constrained economic growth and environmental challenges. Right now, the average car spends around 95 percent of its time unused, with huge swathes of urban spaces from Beijing to Johannesburg dedicated to supporting these vehicles. Even during peak periods, only 10 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet is in use.
MaaS, when coupled with high-capacity, fixed-route, public transport services, could give cities the catalyst they need to deliver substantive reform: increasing the utilization of existing vehicles via share schemes and other incentives, and providing a cost-effective and reliable alternative to car ownership and use. This could open up valuable real estate for redevelopment as mixed-use neighborhoods, which offer affordable housing, flexible workspaces, parks and other shared community spaces.
In addition, by increasing efficiency and optimising how we use public roads, promoting transport innovation and developing smart infrastructure, MaaS could help cities radically reduce their carbon footprint and make roads safer in the future.
Finally, for private operators, MaaS is a chance to secure increased market share in a highly competitive industry, ensure the most efficient utilization of their resources, build improved community relations, and benefit from a more collaborative relationship with city and transportation authorities. This includes establishing valuable data-sharing agreements between public and private transportation providers.
HOW TO MAP A MAAS BLUEPRINT
Money is tight and cities can no longer rely on building more roads to ease their transportation challenges. They need to improve the efficiency of their existing infrastructure and do things more innovatively and smarter. To make matters worse, cities are also reliant on transport planning and modeling approaches, performance indicators and environmental measures that are fast becoming outdated, overtaken by new tech, real-time data and the rapidly changing transportation landscape. Given this uncertainty, it can be tempting for cities to double down on tried-and-tested approaches.
But change is both possible and increasingly necessary. Here we set out the five key steps we believe that city authorities need to follow to create a MaaS blueprint.
1/ THINK BIG AND PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE
Just like planning for other major public infrastructure projects, cities need to analyze and understand the mobility needs of individual communities. This includes identifying where and when people need to travel, the price they are able to pay, the scope of the city’s current mobility approach to get them there, where gaps exist, and whether MaaS is a sustainable business model that could address the city's and citizens’ needs.
This exercise will help inform a detailed mobility vision, including possible partners to enable delivery, and a phased plan to get there. As part of this, the city’s focus must shift from prioritizing individual trouble spots for urgent funding and action, e.g. a busy junction or train route (spot fixing), to building a seamless, equitable and efficient transportation system that optimizes users’ journeys and the city’s use of resources as a whole (multi-modal network optimization).
Beyond funding, the biggest challenge is that city authorities will need to futureproof their plans and the policies, procurement guidelines and regulations that support them. Furthermore, consideration will be needed for the wider social, economic, environmental and public-health impacts of the proposed changes — big or small — on communities. For example, is the mobility package affordable and accessible to those who need it most?
To get the full picture, cities need to take a more holistic approach to mobility planning. This includes bringing together from the start not just the usual experts on infrastructure, transport and planning, but also specialists in data science, cybersecurity, environment, public health and socio-economic issues, as well as the user community. This should help to: mitigate any risks from planned changes ahead of implementation; ensure you deliver a system that works for everyone; and produce shared measures and key performance indicators equipped to flex with the tech and assess whether the system is meeting your objectives and users’ needs.