By John David von Oertzen, CEO, Mobimeo 

The Business of Mobility is an Urban Mobility Company series highlighting some of the most successful new businesses in the mobility sector. Featuring a closer look at the way in which companies stand out, CEOs, Directors and other c-level executives elaborate on what it takes to turn a great idea into a great company.

John David von Oertzen of Mobimeo explains how his company is helping German cities and transport authorities connect with mobility users through MaaS platforms. 

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Mobimeo and moovel combine to build customer-friendly, regional public transport apps.

I have recently been involved with the merger between two key German players in the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) industry: Mobimeo and parts of moovel. My four-year stint with moovel comes to an end as I take over as CEO of Mobimeo. While moovel will continue to focus on B2C and its REACH NOW app, Mobimeo will focus on B2B and B2G software solutions. The transaction is aimed at ensuring we are better resourced to achieve our goal of helping transport providers improve their market offering and simplifying mobility for users. 

A new attitude for a new era

The digital revolution allows us instant access to every possible entertainment, social and educational service imaginable. As the Third Industrial Revolution gives way to the Fourth, the expectation is that multimodal platforms will do for mobility what Netflix has done for movies. 

But making the leap from the Internet to the Internet of Things (IoT) is not easy. Integrating the real world with digital solutions needs facilitation by experts that can be a partner for both sides: the traditional public transport industry and mobility service providers with a digital business model. To establish a digital user interface is a prerequisite for public transport companies and associations to not lose track in the transformation towards MaaS if they want to offer commuters a seamless experience in all the major cities across the world. I am excited by the opportunity to build MaaS platforms because – as Ross Douglas notes in this article –  “MaaS done right is a huge opportunity for cities to reduce car use and the resulting pollution and congestion”.

Cities versus Big Tech

The good news is that there is sufficient interest and investment in MaaS to give it the unstoppable momentum it needs to ‘change the way cities move’. The challenge is that public players could find themselves trying to close a stable door after the horse of mass user adoption has bolted to the paddock of Big Tech. As a recent ARUP report argues, public transport operators must improve their service to customers or risk disruption by the private sector, who will leverage digital solutions to “capture existing surplus and value”. 

Working with cities and public transport companies to improve the customer offering

The promise of MaaS is that not only will it create better, cheaper services for users, but it will also improve traffic flow, reduce emissions and make cities more liveable. That’s where Mobimeo comes in. We are dedicated to helping cities and transport authorities, like Berlin’s BVG and S-Bahn, develop cloud-based software solutions and customer-facing apps that add value and improve the mobility experience of citizens. 

While many offer a grand vision of MaaS replacing cars, the opportunity currently is to solve discrete mobility problems that deliver quick tangible gains for the city and for commuters. We recently supported S-Bahn Stuttgart with a new Park-and-Ride feature in their mobility app, which is aimed at reducing cars travelling from outlying suburbs into the city. The app helps drivers locate the nearest Park-and-Ride parking and then seamlessly guides them to take the best available public transport option for their destination within the city. Similarly, we’ve had to respond to the demands of COVID-19, helping to communicate new rules and guidelines and integrating new alternatives like using your own bike or walking longer distances than usual. 

Regulation should favour smaller players

Data regulations like GDPR add a layer of complexity for us, but as a European company we are prepared for the regulation. This even serves as a unique selling proposition when competing with non-European tech providers. Regulation will have an increasing influence on MaaS as the EU clamps down on Big Tech, introducing new laws to govern the gatekeepers of digital services. It’s important that big players not be allowed to monopolise users through their control of entrenched services that smaller businesses use, as this BBC article explains. But the Digital Market Act is still a few years away from taking effect. 

Collaborating for the sake of the users

Regardless of regulation, it’s our job as European tech professionals to show how transport companies can add value to their current offering and build their user base with MaaS apps. You do this by staying close to them and adapting the app to their preferences. That’s why, when we build a solution, we don’t just hand it over, we stay involved and ensure the app is current, with iterative functionality improvements shipped as often as every other week. The accelerating development of machine learning is also potentially an advantage for agile players, giving us the tools to build models that learn from customer behaviour and anticipate their needs. This is in stark contrast to legacy public transport, where systems are updated yearly. 

The future: payments and mobility budget

We will know that the era of MaaS has fully arrived when it replaces car ownership. The challenge for now is fragmentation of modes and of operators, which exacerbates the complexity of tariffs, payment systems and budgeting. While car owners have a simple model for payment, MaaS is not quite there. If customers knew the upfront budget for all their mobility needs, they could make the direct comparison with car-ownership and choose the rational option. In Germany we have tariff integration for bus and train services on regional level, which is hugely convenient for customers. Ideally, other modes would integrate into such a system, laying the foundations for companies to offer a multimodal mobility service for a fixed monthly fee. 

Looking at Germany and beyond, the cooperation between publicly-owned transport operators, private mobility service providers and innovative software companies can help to establish MaaS even faster to reach our goal: improving our cities and responding to the challenge of climate change.