By Ross Douglas, Founder & CEO of Autonomy & the Urban Mobility Company

What is MaaS and how will cities move from talking about it to making it happen?

The concept of MaaS is simple enough. An app with a map and a bunch of transport options replaces the car as the commuting weapon of choice. The cloud has enabled us to have music, movies and software streamed to us as a service, but moving around cities is more complicated as you have to navigate the ambitions of the public and private sector and that of commuters.

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As MaaS offers a viable alternative to car commuting, European cities are behind the idea. But what are the steps needed?

Step 1:

The first priority is for the city to determine which data standard they want operators to use. Until then, it’s a bit like everyone speaking a different language. This recently published article by David Zipper explains the origins and benefits of the new, open standard called the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) which originated in Los Angeles to manage the increase of scooter rides. As all shared vehicles are connected, cities are able to monitor and manage transport solutions from the data generated by these fleets as opposed to traditional traffic flow sensors.

Step 2:

The next step is for cities to decide on whether they want to participate in a MaaS platform or leave it to the private sector. This is a highly contested space with literally hundreds of companies racing to offer the commuter seamless multi-modal travel. Some of today’s MaaS players include:

  • Mapping apps like Google and Citymapper that have evolved into “1st generation” MaaS providers as their apps suggest trip solutions but the user is still unable to book and pay from their app.
  • Traditional ride-hailing operators like Grab and Uber are fast becoming multi-mobility operators by offering a host of services on their app – not all of which are owned by them. Uber announced their partnership with Cityscoot, which is owned by RATP, at Autonomy Paris last year.
  • Independent startups like Whim Global, Migo and Zipster in Singapore are hoping to aggregate public and private solutions on their consumer facing apps
  • Software companies like Trafi and Kyyti offer white label solutions to public transit operators.
  • Massive public and private transport operators have entered the race too. SNCF has 1000 engineers in their digital lab, Transdev has Cityway, Mobimeo is the daughter and new venture of Deutsche Bahn, and RATP in partnership with Paris’s PTA called Ile De France Mobilité have developed their own apps.

With all these options, MaaS is still a bit confusing for cities to understand and implement. MaaS done right is a huge opportunity for cities to reduce car use and the resulting pollution and congestion. For these reasons cities need to try and test some of the many options out there. Berlin’s Public Transport Operator BVG commissioned Trafi to create their MaaS app called Jelbi that offers six modes of mobility from trains to scooters. “By bringing all the pieces of the mobility puzzle together, we can give our users an attractive alternative to private car usage” claims Jakob Michael Heider, Head of Jelbi at BVG. At the same time, BVG is working with Mobimeo to create a live navigation feature called “companion” in BVG’s existing FahrInfo App. Running two strategies simultaneously is a smart way of keeping the many users on the existing BVG app and creating something new so that they can A/B test the two.

Cities need to understand the business models of private MaaS solutions too. What mode should the MaaS app prioritise? Walking is undoubtedly the best short trip solution for the city and commuter but if the app owner’s business model is to take a small commission off every ride, then there is little motivation to nudge the user to walk. European cities with public transport are increasingly wanting a combination of transit, active mobility and shared vehicles in that order and their involvement in the platform can ensure they get it. Ingo Wortmann, Chairman of the Management Board at Munich Transport (MVG) explains, “Sharing is part of our DNA as a public transport operator. The MVG’s current goal is to also cover the first and last mile by cooperating with new partners and offers. Our customers want to reach their destination from and to their front door, and not just from stop to stop.”

Step 3:

The final step is for cities to issue operating licenses to the best of the many private operators offering shared vehicles and rides and establish a collaborative relationship. By having all operators feeding data to a central dashboard, cities are able to increase or decrease the supply of services to match demand and avoid free-floating scooters or bikes cluttering the streets. Through a MaaS platform they are also able to suggest transport options to commuters that meet their goals. And as always the data they collect will become extremely valuable over time as they change their infrastructure to accommodate new mobility solutions.