The concept

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), also known in places as Transport as a Service (TaaS) is described as a new way to address mobility needs without the use of a privately owned vehicle. Within this simple definition, Public Transport has always been a provider of mobility as a service. Taxis and services like Uber, Lyft and BlaBlaCar would also qualify as MaaS. However, the emphasis is now on providing a door-to-door service, including legs in different modes, without the need of an owned vehicle. In a way, the name hints at the ideas of software and data “as a service”; indeed, it has even been suggested that almost everything could be provided as a service (1)

The idea is not entirely new. The idea was tested first in Gothenburg in Sweden using a monthly subscription model. The idea then gained widespread publicity through the efforts of ITS Finland (its CEO later founded Maas Global) and the support of the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communication. A bit later the Mobility as a Service Alliance was formed.

The facilitators

Mobility as a Service is made possible by the introduction of Intelligent Mobility Planners, now available at websites in most large cities. This idea is supported and made widespread with the advent of smartphones and the availability of public transport real-time data to apps developers. In addition to this, the opportunity to integrate payment into an app makes the whole process feasible and integrated.

These facilities enabled the combination of transport services from public and private transportation providers through a unified application that request assembles and manages the trip, which users can pay for with a single account. MaaS is not limited to individual mobility; in principle, the approach could be applied to the movement of goods, as well – particularly in urban areas.

Trend setters

This focus is supported and encouraged by a variety of innovative mobility service providers such as public bicycles, car clubs, ride-sharing and e-hailing services as well as on-demand "pop-up" bus services. This trend is motivated by the anticipation of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles that are widely expected to reduce significantly the cost of mobility.

An obvious impetus to MaaS has been provided by services like Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar and services like Car2Go. Each of these uses only one mode of transport to deliver mobility. The next step is provided by MaaS applications that integrate different modes to provide the most efficient mobility solution in each case.

The MaaS Process

The first step is to identify travel options for a particular journey using a journey planner. This will show that the user can get from A to B by using different combinations of modes. The user can then select their preferred trip based on cost, time, and convenience. At that point, any necessary bookings (e.g. booking a taxi/Uber, reserving a seat on a commuter train or a bike at the end station) would be performed as a unit by an intelligent back office. Given the example of Uber, it is expected that this service should allow national and international roaming with the same end-user app.

This could be a scheduled service or an on-demand one. Some components of the service may require ride-sharing on a vehicle and therefore imply some delay and diversion from the shortest route. In some cases, the user may opt to walk to a particular pick-up point to board, for example, a minibus as feeder to a rail service. Ride-sharing may entail some delay but incur in lower costs and users’ preferences may vary. It is always possible to book a service in advance, on a regular basis (for commuting) or as required. In the latter cases there would be a delay between ordering and receiving a service and this will depend on location, time of day and, to a large extent, on the level of demand for such services.

As Koenraad Verduyn has said, MaaS creates five level ecosystem. At the top is the User trying to move from A to B. The travel options are offered by a MaaS integrator with information and data from Service Providers (organisations like bus and rail companies, taxi services, etc.). At the fourth level are the drivers and people Operating these services and finally the Infrastructure over which the services are deployed. The service providers often also manage the drivers, as in most bus systems, but actual operations can be outsourced, creating a separation between the operational layer and the organisational layer.

This type of arrangement creates a number of issues as discussed by Koenraad Verduyn: First of all, integration of these layers requires one-to-many relationships. One MaaS provider integrates the offer from multiple service providers. One service provider can integrate the services of many driver companies. One break in the chain and the passenger ends stranded. This requires standardized interfaces, realtime data flows and a level of trust between all players to succeed.

Second, the financial flows become more complex. There are more layers, and for example, the financial flow between level 2 (Integrator) and level 4 (Operator) can be repeated many times over for every leg of a multimodal trip. This requires again open standards, but also open access to payment systems for the business models to work. This is proving to be a big obstacle for public transport companies, that now see the control over their sales channels diluted in hands outside their control.

A third characteristic is that there may be no contract between all players. One service provider in a multimodal trip does not know who is providing the next leg of the trip, and if he does know, there is no contract between the two. The integrator or MaaS providers must take full responsibility for getting the passenger from A to B and this is still an open debate on how to ensure this is solid. The Government must provide the rules and regulations that allow the ecosystem to flourish: defining open standards, requiring open payment systems, and regulating access to the market.

Payment methods

The current concept assumes use through mobile app with two basic payment models:

A Monthly (or another period) subscription model assumes that enough users consume mobility services on a monthly basis to offer bundled packages. Users pay a monthly fee and receive bundled mobility services such as unlimited travel on urban public transport in addition to a fixed number of taxi rides (limited by distance or value) plus other extras like free bike sharing. The monthly subscription model may work under a commercially operated "MaaS Operator" which will procure transport services in bulk and provide guarantees to users. An alternative may be complex contractual arrangements between single mode providers with the MaaS Operator acting as a clearing service that also guarantees the mobility to the user. It is not essential that the operator include all forms of transport, but just enough to be able to provide reasonable guarantees. A MaaS operator may improve vehicle utilization by allocating customers to services in an optimal manner.

A Pay-as-you-go model is similar to present-day Uber but multi-modal. It is expected to operate better where there is a high number of “on spec” riders; these could be tourists, free-lancers and on-business trips. Each component of the booked trip (bus ride, shared taxi trip, etc.) is priced separately and is set by the transport service provider. Now the mobile applications operate as search engines, seeking to draw all transport service providers into a single application, enabling users to avoid having to interact with multiple gateways in an attempt to assemble the best trip.

Both models have similar requirements, such as trip planners to construct optimal trip tours and technical and effective business relationships with transport service providers.

Personal and Social Benefits

Mobility as a Service can reduce the need to own a car in many urban areas thus reducing other costs like parking, maintenance, insurance and road tax. The decision to rely entirely on MaaS and abandon car ownership is a difficult one as the availability of an owned car is always attractive. Moreover, the marginal perceived cost of using your own car is lower than that of using a MaaS service (that must include capital, maintenance, insurance tax and operating costs). It is likely that MaaS will be adopted faster in large cities, in particular where parking is expensive and capacity constrained.

Whether the combination of many individual choices leads to a social optimum is more debatable. It will depend, to an extent, on how efficiently the complete multi-modal vehicle fleet is managed and the services offered. Several MaaS operators competing with each other may result in initial lower costs but greater inefficiency in the allocation of vehicles to services. Restricting the services to a single MaaS operator may improve efficiency but provide monopolistic power to manage supply and prices.

In large cities with parking restrictions, MaaS will be adopted faster and may reduce car ownership. However, the impact on emissions is less certain as the vehicle kilometres travelled may not decrease proportionally as there will be empty movements and perhaps even some trip induction.

It will be necessary to devise policies to manage the introduction of such services to protect the interest of users and the community as a whole. The introduction of pilot schemes will provide the necessary experience to develop such policies.

Main players

The MaaS Alliance is a public-private partnership creating the foundations for a common approach to Mobility as a Service, facilitating
the economies of scale needed for successful implementation and take-up of MaaS in Europe and beyond. The main goal is to facilitate a single, open market and full deployment of MaaS services.

The MaaS Alliance as numerous partners including city authorities, service providers and integrators. One of them is MaaS Global, a Finnish company offering the WHIM app to integrate mobility services. It operates in Helsinki and is now preparing to offer services in the West Midlands in the UK.

There are other players preparing to offer full MaaS services or offering what can be considered precursors to full MaaS integration.

Impact of autonomous vehicles

As one of the large cost elements of any public transport services is the cost or revenue to the driver the advent of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles is expected to make MaaS cheaper and more attractive.

Uber has expressed its intention to offer CAVs as part of MaaS as soon as practicable. At the same time manufacturers are considering whether delivering CAVs as MaaS is a more viable business model than offering them to private owners, in particular in early years when the premium of a Level 4/5 CAV will be higher.