By Stephanie Hagen, Director, Urban Mobility Company

Click here to watch a recording of “How Europe is Moving MaaS – And Vice Versa” held in partnership with Hogan Lovells.

While Mobility as a Service is not a uniquely European concept, you’d be hard pressed to find another region where the MaaS industry is maturing at the same rate. With several emerging operational and business models all falling under the MaaS umbrella, we set out to explore what the European vision of MaaS looks like, how this vision may be evolving and what the rest of the world can learn from the European experience. Partnering with Hogan Lovells, the Urban Mobility company hosted the dynamic Virtual Workshop How Europe is Moving MaaS – And Vice Versa. Leading the discussion was Natalie Sauber, Market Intelligence Lead at Arcadis and she was joined by Suzanne Hoadley, Senior Manager & Traffic Efficiency Coordinator at Polis Network, Aurélien Cottet, MaaS Project Director at Transdev, Andy Boenau, Founder of Speakeasy Media & Board Member of MaaS America and Krista Huhtala-Jenks, Head of Ecosystem & Sustainability at MaaS Global. Here are the workshops key takeaways.

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Freedom of Choice and What This Means For Sustainability

The conversation kicked off with the question being posed to the panellists on what they think a successful European vision of Maas looks like, and one idea emerged as the dominant talking point: Freedom. For Krista Huhtala-Jenks, it is hugely important that MaaS provides a freedom of choice as customers’ needs can vary on a daily, weekly and long-term basis, and they need the freedom to choose from a number of, preferably sustainable, multimodal offerings at the local, regional and national levels. However, this raises the question of whether freedom of choice and sustainability are in fact mutually exclusive. If people are free to choose single-car ownership over greener modes of transport, what can be done to realistically steer us away from a car-centric future?

Tackling this thorny issue, Andy Boenau offered the example of Copenhagen. The city, now a world cycling capital, originally had a car culture similar to the United States, and it took a concerted effort to make single-car ownership less convenient than active modes of mobility or public transport to transform the city. Freedom of choice means that people are allowed to choose any mode of transport they desire, but it does not mean cities need to give equal legislative, financial and infrastructure footing to each of these modes, especially if they are less sustainable.

As a member of POLIS, a leading European city network for sustainable transport solutions, Suzanne Hoadley is all for encouraging more walking, cycling and public transport use, but also highlighted the fact that these are the least profitable modes of transport. Cities are wondering how MaaS actors are going to achieve financial viability while preaching a message of sustainability, and what a successful business model would actually look like. This prompted Natalie Sauber to ask the panel the question on everybody’s mind, ‘why has the revenue from MaaS been elusive so far?’

What do Unicorns, Santa and a Successful MaaS Business Model Have in Common?

Krista pointed out that for the typical household in Europe, maybe 25% of their monthly budget is dedicated to transport and, quite often, the majority of that is going to the private car. Only when the market develops a service that caters to people’s diverse mobility needs and offers them the equivalent, if not better, value than their car, will mass MaaS adoption be possible? Of course, the big challenge remains understanding what customers want and “If this were easy,” Krista succinctly put it “someone would have figured this out 5 years ago.”

Andy and Suzanne discussed the merits of developing a business model like that of social media and having people “pay” through offering data. Public authorities and transport planners in particular could benefit tremendously from rich data to understand how and why their citizens are moving around. Yet as Suzanne pointed out, customers are most often only interested in information when there is a disruption in the network. Otherwise, there are already many options to access free transport data. All panellists agreed that it is ultimately necessary to develop and test different business models.

With corporate mobility becoming a topic du jour in France, Aurélien Cottet suggested that a B2B business model in the form of a company “mobility budget” could be the future of MaaS. For many small and medium-sized cities, the vast majority of mobility is being completed by commuters and, as the life of the employee begins the moment they leave their home, it is only natural that their employer should be involved in paying for and facilitating their daily journeys. This mobility budget could be further used to encourage employees to take more sustainable forms of transport. For those commuters located in “transit desert” suburbs, completely abandoning the car is all but impossible, and so it needs to be integrated into the mobility mix. Perhaps this could mean using cars to complete the first or last leg of a journey, allowing the commuter to travel to and from a public transport option.

A MaaS Chicken & Egg: Regulation vs. Innovation

As a relatively new concept, many cities have not yet taken the concrete steps to develop a regulatory framework addressing MaaS. On the one hand, such regulations are going to be key in protecting certain market structures and ensuring that all citizens continue to have access to convenient transport services. On the other hand, over-regulation may lead to the suppression of innovation – so policymakers may need to tread lightly. Andy pointed out that this is a classic “Chicken & Egg situation” and is an urban issue that transcends region.

Krista warned that by tightly controlling the competition – for instance, as has recently been seen with Paris selecting three e-scooter companies to operate over the next two years – cities could unwittingly miss out on new technologies that are ultimately greener, safer and more convenient than what is currently being offered. Instead, public authorities should be focusing on inventing new types of regulation and policy tools that allow them to stay ahead of the curve, as opposed to “catching up” every time an innovation comes to market. According to Suzanne, most cities do encourage innovation and try not to overregulate, but at the end of the day, it’s important not to lose sight of the ultimate goal of new mobility technologies and services: to ensure that they are delivering societal goals and keeping the citizen in mind. If regulation is what it takes to guarantee this outcome, well, that’s why regulation exists in the first place.

Why MaaS Hasn’t “Happened” Yet

While industry experts love trumpeting MaaS as the future of mobility, it has yet to catch on with the general public in a way that its many supporters believe it should. Taking a cue from the audience, Natalie asked the panel, ‘why hasn’t MaaS “happened” yet?’. Aurélien pointed out that the technological maturity just isn’t quite there to be able to integrate the many different mobility actors onto the same platform. Most existing offers are providing only three or four different modal options, and this is simply not enough to meet the diverse transportation needs for many Europeans.

Andy took a more semantic approach expressing that while MaaS sits at the intersection of tech, policy and transport engineering, these actors are often not speaking the same language. For instance, a tech company might have the perfect connected solution for public transport, but if they are not pushing it to public authorities with a vocabulary that can be understood, it will not be implemented. On top of this, the buyers (i.e the consumer) and the sellers (i.e. mobility providers) are not communicating properly, even when there is a seemingly perfect market fit. Finding the right message and the right way to deliver it will be key for getting consumers on board.

Finally, Suzanne commented that she sees Mass as having an “identity crisis”, since asking five different people about MaaS could easily result in five different definitions. While it is natural to see different models emerging, this also means that MaaS is still in a sort of “pilot phase” and simply not ready to be mainstreamed.

To wrap up the conversation, Patrick Ayad, Partner and Global Head of Automotive and Mobility at Hogan Lovells, joined the panellists to impart some concluding remarks. For Patrick, a key to making MaaS “happen” will be uniting the many key stakeholders involved and adopting a very holistic approach. Audience members surely agreed with this sentiment, as a majority 31% identified “a lack of cooperation between key stakeholders” as the main barrier to achieving MaaS at scale. While there remains a number of economic, political and technical challenges to overcome, what is clear is that MaaS is fast becoming a more and more viable alternative to single car ownership in cities across Europe.

Click here to watch a recording of “How Europe is Moving MaaS – And Vice Versa” held in partnership with Hogan Lovells.