What is Mobility-as-a-Service? (Maas): Are We There Yet?

By Akshay Bhide

As our global population skyrockets and disruptive technologies emerge, people are looking to move to cities and countries where these technologies can provide a new standard of innovative living. In 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas, a dramatic increase from just 30% in 1970. 

As cities become more densely populated, roads and highways continue to experience an uptick in traffic. There are temporary solutions to this problem, such as increasing the number of lanes on highways, or adding more buses to the public transit system. However, these temporary solutions require a considerable amount of time and money, and do not directly address the root of the problem: there are simply too many cars

Fundamentally, cars are incredibly inefficient as a mode of transportation, especially for short city trips. Only 12-30% of the energy of the fuel in a 3,000 pound car is used to transport its average one to two passengers. These inefficiencies are worsened in stop-and-go city traffic. Each car also spends 95% of its lifetime parked, taking up valuable space that cities need in order to expand. This is where Mobility-as-a-Service comes into play.

What is Mobility-as-a-Service or MaaS?

In layman's terms, Mobility-as-a-Service (from here on referred to as “MaaS”) describes a shift away from privately owned vehicles towards modes of transportation that can be utilized as a service. With a fully-integrated MaaS ecosystem, users can combine public and private transportation through one platform and pay for the services in one place. Imagine hailing a ride to the train station, buying a train ticket, and then renting a bike from the station to your destination, all through one centralized system. 

MaaS describes a shift away from privately owned vehicles towards modes of transportation that can be utilized as a service.

For the past two centuries, we’ve seen major advancements in Mobility that have transformed the way we move. The 19th century saw the first Industrial Revolution, where railroads and preliminary public transportation networks supported high population rises and increasing job opportunities in newly emerging cities. The 20th century saw the rise of automobiles, and with that came suburbanization and decentralization of activities outside of big cities. Lastly, the 21st century is experiencing the rise of big data analytics. 

How Data is Impacting Mobility

With the influx and access to all this data, MaaS systems can make the existing transportation network more efficient and easier to use by providing services directly tailored to consumers: what they want, when they want it. MaaS can utilize the “information everywhere” world we find ourselves in today and can evolve into the driving factor of the 21st century Mobility revolution (pun intended).

The real-time connectivity that smartphones offer us today has been and will continue to be a key component behind the concept of MaaS -- we can be connected to everything, wherever we are. 

Ridesharing: The Perfect Example of MaaS

The most prominent example of MaaS in today’s society through the use of smartphones is e-hailing services. Ridesharing grew from a little over “a million users in 2012 to almost 5 million in 2014, and predictions show this figure will reach 23 million by 2024”. “Lyft reached 1 billion rides given in September 2018, while Uber continues to do around 14 million rides per day”. Clearly, MaaS isn’t just a utopian fantasy - it's here already, and society is embracing it.

Although the rise of ridesharing is a clear indicator that MaaS is implemented, a fully integrated system is a long ways away. To create an ideal MaaS ecosystem, society and city municipalities needs to combine three core elements: infrastructure, data providers, and incentives. These three elements must be developed in a very structured way, with even contribution and support from key players in each domain, in order to bring MaaS to consumers worldwide.

The first key element is infrastructure, both digital and physical

Digitally, we see a rise in interest in MaaS due to the growth of smartphones. Tapping into 4G and potentially 5G networks allow MaaS systems to build and offer secure, dynamic, and real-time services. However, there are a lot of players in the space, such as telcos, payment processors, public and private transportation providers, as well as local authorities that need to work together to create a fully-integrated system. 

Physically, transportation planners need to decide how to integrate public transportation (buses, subways) and private transportation solutions (Uber, Lyft, Bird) altogether. Once implemented, cities can allocate shared-transit only zones to reduce congestion. 

Granville Mall is an example of this initiative that has seen great success, where a specific strip of the road is reserved solely for pedestrian and shared mobility. Since implementing the shared-transit only zone, the city revitalized their crucial bus system by reducing the cost and congestion that came with allowing private vehicles in this transit zone. Since then, visitors find the older part of town more culturally and economically relevant.

AmpUp is a startup aiming to use physical infrastructure to make the use of EVs more realistic and accessible. Their network allows users to reserve, navigate, and share EV chargers, allowing users that need a charge to find one nearby, and users that own chargers to profit off of them by sharing their charger under their own price and schedule.

The second element is the data providers

Data providers are uniquely positioned in the MaaS ecosystem because they have connections to both ends of the spectrum: the transportation providers and the consumers. Data providers collect, clean, analyze, and repurpose data from transportation providers and city infrastructures to create actionable insights and solutions to send to consumers. 

Having access to massive amounts of data can have short and long-term benefits for MaaS. In the short term, autonomous cars can use data to communicate both with each other and with the infrastructure around them (V2X). As technologies around 5G connectivity continue to develop, this communication and autonomous vehicle decision-making will eventually be calculated and processed instantly. Cities of the future should be able to utilize more time sensitive data to decrease traffic congestion. For example, solutions such as traffic light and lane optimization during different times of the day can only be realized with data taken over several months or years.

The last element of a successful MaaS ecosystem is the implementation of incentives

Cities and governmental bodies have the task of integrating public and private transportation services together in an equitable way through city-wide initiatives and/or policy changes. Urban centers today are littered with parking spaces everywhere; there are 8 parking spaces for every car in the United States. Repurposing these parking garages and larger urban centers to include commercial real estate on the ground floor and housing opportunities above can address housing concerns. Furthermore, it incentivizes citizens to utilize alternative modes of transportation, such as public transportation or micro-mobility.

Freebird is an app that gives users free or discounted rides for going to certain restaurants. They do this by partnering with restaurants looking to increase revenue during restaurant downtime periods. This system uses alternate modes of transportation to incentivize users to go out to certain restaurants that partner with Freebird, since they don’t have to drive and get cash back.

The younger generation is starting to embrace shared mobility services. Along with the explosive growth of the rideshare industry, there has been a 47% decrease in 16 year olds that drive, and a 10% decrease in drivers 20 to 24 years old since 1983. Though it is evident that society may be embracing new Mobility solutions, certain steps must be taken around the world in regards to infrastructure and government support in order to fully implement a fully integrated MaaS ecosystem, a solution that is ultimately cheaper, cleaner, faster, and smarter.


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