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

Click here to watch a recording of Mobility as a Public Service: Sustainable, Agile, & Resilient Platform Experiences for Cities

Today, in any given large city across Europe, most users have the opportunity to select from a range of modalities that promote a more sustainable way of getting around, set against the backdrop of strong public transit systems. This is the perfect formula to lead to the rapid adoption of Mobility as a Service, yet there remains a range of significant obstacles that must be overcome in order for MaaS to truly put the power in the user’s smartphone-equipped hand. Covering such questions as who will pay for MaaS, what entity will control the application, and how to avoid a MaaS monopoly, the virtual workshop Mobility as a Public Service: Sustainable, Agile, & Resilient Platform Experiences for Cities, in partnership with SAP, sought to confront some of these obstacles head-on. Welcoming panelists Luisa Wahlig, Senior Manager of Industry Solutions at HERE Technologies, Manoj Harbhajanka Founder & CEO of Acuiti Labs, Joke Beel, Program Manager for MaaS & New Forms of Mobility at STIB-MIVB, Heike Löffler, Chief Commercial Officer at Mobimeo and moderated by Autonomy & the Urban Mobility Company’s CEO Ross Douglas, here are the discussion’s key takeaways.

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Complexity for the end user must be reduced as much as possible

Part of what makes MaaS so exciting and gives it the potential to truly disrupt the way we get from point A to point B is the incredible amount of choices that the end user will ultimately have. There has been such a strong development in the past few years of robust consumer offers, but what is challenging for the end user is that MaaS still feels like an unsolvable puzzle. For Heike Löffler, “There are always options like bikes and scooters, but their use within the customer’s MaaS journey is not yet cohesive. The entry to these options must be as easy as possible.” For each panelist, this means that there are a range of technical and governance solutions that must be in place. Notably, these include platform and software solutions that provide an intuitive user interface, involve all available modalities, and navigation, tracking, and fleet management capabilities that allow MaaS to work at the operational level. For Joke Beel, this also means that fiscal incentives and subsidies must be set by public authorities to encourage citizens to take advantage of the offer and to help providers develop an effective service.

The better the competition is, the better the offer will be

When asked if MaaS would be better left in the hands of a gigantic tech company like Apple or Google, few stakeholders in the industry are enthusiastic about such a monopoly. Yet for regions like Brussels, the overall feeling is that the better the competition, the better the end user’s ultimate offer will be. “We are a public platform, so we need to be inclusive” explains Joke Beel. “We are bound to being objective with our partnerships, but as long as private actors are willing to collaborate to improve the user’s experience, I don’t think we will try to hinder private actors from being present.” What ultimately matters is that the user has all the correct information they need to make an informed decision.

No one can do it alone

Despite this reality that some pretty powerful names in tech and mobility will be throwing their hats into the ring (if they haven’t already), for the panelists and participants alike, a partnership approach is the only way that MaaS will ever truly work. Indeed, 87% of poll respondents thought that public and private collaboration was essential to achieving MaaS adoption at scale. For Heike Löffler, “Mobimeo was founded as a tech company, that is our expertise – UX and UI design, software engineering, platform research teams and the like. Now, I would not necessarily recommend cities or public transport companies to try to do this by themselves. At the same time, cities and PTAs have been running public transport systems for hundreds of years. They know the user in that way. We will never be able to do that as well as they can.” This is why partnerships are so important: strengths must be combined so that the best product possible can be on the market. “If we think about MaaS in a network way, with a collaborative approach of actors working to match supply and demand, users will be more willing and able to leave their cars at home,” said Luisa Wahlig. Partnerships can be built on so many levels. “Allowing companies to use agreed-upon standards, but then building upon this foundation to let them bring what they do best to the equation – data, routing logic, fleet management, etc. – whatever that is proprietary that can better the offer, will create the right collaborative ecosystem for success.”

Let the city level the playing field through regulation

Whatever body ends up managing a MaaS app, either public or private, for Manoj Harbhajanka, “Public bodies are the ones that are good at managing regulations.” The technology is there, and now the challenge is to provide a level playing ground that allows all the stakeholders to get together on a platform to provide the best offer possible through the aggregation service. “The platform needs to be neutral, and each different service operator should be able to operate that way. With a partnership model that allows the public sector to bring their infrastructure expertise and the private sector to bring their technical capabilities, this partnership allows for healthy competition on a platform that provides a fair entry point for each offer.” As the city is, in all likelihood, the most neutral party, PPPs must start with trust and accountability with cities first establishing a clear set of participating rules. “Otherwise, these ‘platform races’ will just continue,” says Wahlig.

Ultimately, these obstacles are no small feat. According to the workshop’s participants, only 10% of respondents who identified as working for a region, city or PTA had achieved a full-scale adoption of MaaS in their city or region. There are other large questions that need to be answered to rise to the moment, including key factors like data sharing, privacy concerns, and tactics to actually get citizens on-board. Yet for all panelists, the message to hit home was that MaaS is a convergence of many different industries with different kinds of expertise, and finding the right way to layer these skills on top of each other will allow for a genuine ecosystem approach – enabling the realization of a true public service.

Click here to watch a recording of Mobility as a Public Service: Sustainable, Agile, & Resilient Platform Experiences for Cities