By Rebecca Sands, Content & Project Manager at Autonomy and the Urban Mobility Company

Click here to watch a recording of “The Future of MaaS: Private Means to Public Ends?”

Chances are that if you work in mobility, you’ve had a discussion or two (or twenty) on the industry’s race to achieving an all-encompassing Mobility as a Service – or MaaS – platform. Big and small fish alike, public and private, have thrown their hats in the ring in the vision of aggregating a full offering of transportation options onto a single platform for consumers.

Yet as a concept that is still packed with competitors and uncertainties, how can private companies work together and with cities alike to develop MaaS apps and platforms that retain social value and put the needs of citizens at the heart of the offer? While workshop participants thought that public sector oversight holds an important responsibility to ensure factors like user centricity and access to data, how can the private sector help? This is what the virtual workshop “The Future of MaaS: Private Means to Public Ends?”, in partnership with Polis Network, set out to discuss. Welcoming experts Sanneke Mulderink-Scholten, Partner at Tranzer, Juan Corro, Chief Innovation Officer at EMT Madrid, Tim McGuckin, Executive Director of MaaS America, Martin Lefrancq, Smart Mobility Coordinator at Brussels Mobility, Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General of Polis Network, and moderator Philippe Crist, Advisor for Innovation and Foresight at the International Transport Forum, here are the virtual workshop’s 5 key takeaways.

A framework built on trust

There’s a lot of talk about MaaS platforms and their role in the mobility ecosystem, but as of yet, no one company or entity has truly achieved a MaaS app at scale. As skepticism for the idea may be contributing to the lack of a compelling model, many of the panelists were in agreement regarding one of the main barriers to adoption: lack of trust.

As a mobility solution with a wide range of uncertainties, for EMT Madrid, MaaS requires trust and a common agreement between stakeholders. With public sector motives centered on creating a solution that meets public objectives such as sustainability and accessibility, any MaaS offering from the perspective of cities and regions will be judged on the social value it provides for citizens. On the private sector side, motives are largely focused on profit, typically determined successful or unsuccessful by shareholders. While each side has their own priorities to uphold, what is clear that a robust MaaS platform cannot exist without the other. MaaS systems that do not recognize this and do not work to build trust between the two sides will automatically result in failure. Without trust, Tranzer sees the failure as threefold: sustainability is not prioritized, there is no margin to operate within, and what results is no market value.

A particular marketplace that requires particular rules

Aligning individual desires, commercial value-creation, and public policy outcomes is one of the principle factors that will make MaaS work. For MaaS America, whatever the governance model, it must encourage innovation and risk-taking on the commercial side, values like equality and accessibility on the public side, and must preserve overall resilience of transport systems. Although the term ‘marketplace’ implies private sector control with public sector regulation, a wholly private or public MaaS marketplace would create too many negative externalities, such as price inflexibility or a lack of diverse options. Therefore, in the case of MaaS platforms, a hybrid approach must be taken – creating a new and particular kind of marketplace that requires particular rules.

As EMT Madrid explained, the only way they found MaaS to be viable was to be present and incorporate as many different systems into the offer as possible. While other sectors such as electricity or water distribution are regulated but then otherwise operate freely, MaaS requires a marketplace based on collaboration rather than competition. For Tranzer, although responsibilities are divided – a marketplace for customers, infrastructure managed by government, and assets managed by operators – a common goal must remain. This is where a MaaS framework built on trust can successfully bridge the divide: without it, each actor will always see the others as competitors.

The missing building blocks creating a hole in the system

While a lot of progress has been made in creating the right building blocks for a successful MaaS model, the discussion highlighted two essential missing pieces.

The first missing piece, pricing, is a challenge that Tranzer sees regularly. In many areas, prices are set, resulting in very little margin to work with. As Philippe Crist explained, transaction cost issues are still a huge barrier to operationalizing MaaS, given the number of competing models (such as car ownership in the US) in use today. This is where a new MaaS marketplace structure can play a pivotal role, by yielding to price in order to create more flexible margins and freedom for market players. Information coming to the marketplace via analytics and forecasting can help inform pricing based on a constant back and forth with customers, more easily regulating factors such as occupancy rates or travel time.

The second missing piece is that of data– both in terms of sharing and standardization. For EMT Madrid, there are unfortunately many good examples of failed schemes, with a lack of use cases that share data and users fairly. In terms of standardization, the lack of a common framework creates a logistical and cost nightmare when an integrator is forced to modify its system each time a new operator is added. From the perspective of MaaS America, this rise in cost can knock out small, innovative players that are important to a well-functioning system. Although the rest of the data homework can be equally divided amongst stakeholders across the different sub-sectors of mobility (i.e. shared cars, free-floating bikes, etc.), the standards themselves must first be put in place in order to avoid debilitating integration costs.

What about the sub/urban population?

When confronting challenges of accessibility in MaaS, the different needs of suburban commuters are a core aspect of MaaS America’s work. In the United States, 85% of Americans commute by car, largely because it is still the cheapest and most convenient option. As any MaaS offering is also tied to issues of economic accessibility, a successful platform will have to understand how to connect suburban communities and cities in a way that retains the affordability of previous modalities.

For each panelist, the fear is that MaaS will open a new urban/rural divide – a challenge that other industries such as telecommunications and electricity have also had to face. Therefore, understanding what other markets have had to do to confront issues of accessibility, MaaS solutions need to put more than just the needs of city center residents at the heart of the offer. In the city of Madrid, this has meant making at least half of the city’s bike-share bikes accessible to suburban commuters, or providing free parking to commuters that opt for other modalities once in the city center. For many MaaS players, the immediate goal is not to wipe out the car forever, but to harness its economic value to diversify the selection and accessibility of more sustainable MaaS options for those in crucial suburban markets.

Sustainability is not a byproduct, but a conscious decision

Part of what makes MaaS so exciting is its potential to share valuable information with users regarding the most sustainable options at a given time, as well as incentivize them to make more environmentally friendly choices. For Tranzer, there is great potential to incorporate the partnerships that make up MaaS into this mindset. As they already work with a variety of big airlines, banks, and other corporate actors, many MaaS players see huge potential in the ability to create a variety of discounts for users when they make a sustainable choice, via other partnerships. These kinds of incentives, given good transparency and labeling, and if properly overseen and fair, can really help MaaS achieve sustainability.

MaaS all by itself will not create the sustainable future that many are striving for. Other measures must accompany any MaaS offering in order to make it work, including policies like low-emissions zones or the display of the CO2 footprint on every user’s journey. For Polis Network, this means a full framework with a carrot and stick approach that creates good habits and incentivizes sustainability from bottom to top. Ultimately, the success of MaaS will depend on the variety of its different services. Yet, if a lack of financial attractiveness pushes more sustainable options off the board and results in limited choices, greater measures such as subsidizing more sustainable modalities may be in order.

Despite the public sector’s duty to shape a fair future for MaaS through regulation and oversight, the workshop’s discussion clearly highlighted the responsibility of every actor’s shared role for a successful system. As almost 60% of the workshop’s participants saw either a lack of cooperation between key stakeholders or a mismatch between public and private goals as the key barrier to achieving MaaS at-scale, oversight will help ensure that public objectives and preferred modes are shared by the private sector. European cities want Maas, as do many of their citizens moving away from car ownership. For Maas to work in Europe, actors must get together and build a platform that works across cities, public, and private operators so that it accomplishes its most important goal: an accessible, inclusive, sustainable mobility experience for every user.

*Editor’s note: Although Martin Lefrancq of Brussels Mobility was unable to join the conversation due to technical issues, multiple panelists highlighted the exceptional work that Brussels is doing to create a MaaS ecosystem. For more information about their current projects, please see their webpage here.

Click here to watch a recording of “The Future of MaaS: Private Means to Public Ends?”