5 mobility challenges MaaS must address

Five mobility challenges for Mobility as a Service

Why Mobility as a Service at all?

The car is still considered to be the most flexible option to get around seamlessly — it promises you empowerment to ride anywhere at any moment. But what if you try remembering the last time you were scouting for a parking spot? In those moments, car ownership can be compared to dragging around a rock shackled to your leg. This is precisely the reason why, in 2001, Bernd Meurer coined the notion of Mobility-as-a-Service, arguing that “ownership and use do not necessarily have to be one and the same”*.

Thus, even though this argument for flexibility is usually implicitly directed against public transport, as much as for owning a personal car (most recent example — Ford’s ad for their new SUV), we cannot forget that public transport carries a significant volume of people every single day. For this reason, we decided to spend a lot of time learning as much as we could from public transport authorities (PTAs). And it seems that PTAs have become more and more convinced that MaaS is the adequate alternative to owning a car, promising even more expansive flexibility: if you were to have a personal master key to any transport option in your pocket, why would you ever rely only on one specific vehicle? This is further supported by ever-accelerating public and private tenders looking for software companies to provide working MaaS solutions. This excitement is nonetheless tainted with three extremely pervasive issues:

  1. A significant amount of actors in the mobility industry are basing the necessity for MaaS in a causal relationship with the emerging sharing economy: if everything is now shared, why not also share transport? For us, this seems to be a slightly misguided approach, as a truly valuable solution has to have a clear reason to exist — a proper vision and clear objectives.
  2. Most academic, public policy or purely corporate marketing material constantly try to reduce MaaS to a transport-agnostic consumer-facing mobile app that enables riders to book & pay for their rides in a single environment, which is either of a private, public, or hybrid nature. On face value, these criteria sound reasonable until you consider how different mobility modes can be compared to each other: an electric bike is more sustainable than a petrol car, and a full bus is more effective than a taxi ride. This suggests that certain modes of transport should be prioritized and incentivized.
  3. In addition to this, continuous debates directly stifle the immediate and impactful development of MaaS solutions. Industry players, public transport authorities, politicians, and even academia disagree if we should immediately start with an intercity, intracity, regional, nationwide or even global MaaS solution and if we should keep such a solution closed, or make it completely or somewhat open.

Comparing solutions, without first going over and prioritizing the actual challenges these solutions ambition to solve, is a futile endeavor. The following elements constitute the key challenges that any MaaS solution is expected to address:

  • Sustainability: prioritizing walking and cycling is a strategic public health objective that is difficult to achieve in cities where breathing has become increasingly problematic and even lethal,
  • Safety: private mobility providers are rarely intrinsically incentivized to ensure safe movement, and pedestrians, as well as cyclists, are carrying most of the burden in trying to avoid traffic accidents,
  • Equity: mobility networks embed inequities — less well-off people rely on public transport while more affluent people revert to private options or hail rides, thus adding to the network congestion,
  • Effectiveness: mobility networks exist to help people and goods move around, and the lower the volume of passengers and parcels vehicles can carry, the less effective such mobility networks become,
  • Connectivity: people from underserved areas rely on private or sporadic alternatives to access the network, thus significantly reducing their ability to take a full part in the urban community life.

All of these challenges suggest that MaaS is much more than just another app in your already overloaded phone screen. If a city is really looking to provide a master key to access any transport option for their residents as a legitimately better alternative to owning a car, this key has to make urban mobility networks more sustainable, effective, equitable, connected, and safe. This also implies that the main challenges now lie in the urban centers, which does not mean that rural areas or intercity traveling is not important. On the contrary, these use cases have many more significant challenges that would require completely new solutions to supplement urban, intracity MaaS.

These issues and the current understanding of MaaS do not go hand in hand, which is why we think the definition of MaaS and its understanding should be broadened up and unpacked into a clear developmental roadmap.

Read more about Mobility as a Service fundamentals

  1. One key mobility problem – car-centricity
  2. Fundamentals of Mobility as a Service
  3. Three main enablers of Mobility as a Service
  4. Future of Mobility as a Service: a roadmap

References

  • Meurer, B. (2001) The Transformation of Design, in Design Issues, vol. 17, no. 1

About Trafi

Founded in 2013, Trafi is a Lithuanian tech start-up. Trafi is working shoulder-to-shoulder with cities, countries, and companies worldwide to create the best in class Mobility-as-a-Service alternative for congested cities. Trafi offers cities the possibility to connect all mobility services into one single platform where users can check itineraries and also book their tickets and trips. 

Trafi’s mission is to empower cities’ urban transportation with technology and know-how and encourage citizens to use more sustainable modes of transportation by accessing all services into one single platform. Trafi is currently live in 4 continents around the world and 7 cities.

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