Fundamentals of Mobility as a Service

In an ideal world, we should be able to teleport ourselves to our destinations. As that is still out of our reach for the foreseeable future, we have to rely on the next best thing — transportation. It either brings us what we need or gets us to where we need to go. In this episode, we will stress our ideal scenario and measure other mobility options against it.

Public transport as the backbone of the mobility network

Public transport seems to bring obstacles to the convenience and comfort of us just appearing where we need to be: we need to wait for it, share it, sometimes transfer and walk to and from it. Hence, it is only natural that people striving for absolute convenience would rather rely on affordable demand responsive services. This, in turn should guarantee that one would be driven directly from their origin to destination. However, your destination doesn’t completely match the destinations of other people that you share your morning commute with, thus it would also require to significantly reduce the vehicle sizes. Just try to imagine this swarm of small pods riding around the city, carrying everyone where they actually need to go. As prominent public transport expert Jarrett Walker has been arguing for years now, “where will they all fit in the urban street? … And when they take over, what room will be left for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, pocket parks, or indeed anything but a vast river of vehicles?”

It should be quite clear to us all that, given the challenges we have discussed before, MaaS has to depend primarily on mass public transport. It is precisely because it requires us to walk and share our rides, that it ensures the most effective, affordable, and sustainable option a mobility network can offer. More so: every MaaS solution should, first, take into account the existing physical infrastructure of public transport, create its digital twin, and, finally, enable city residents to navigate all public transport options with ease and reliability. By providing real-time arrivals, departures, disruptions, and pricing MaaS has to allow people to combine their rides between stops into full trip experiences by themselves or with trip planners. In conclusion, MaaS must entail nearly perfect public transport data and ticketing — allowing residents to plan and execute their trips without any friction.

Supplementing, not competing with hyper-connected mobility supply

Imagine trying to leave a low access area in the city outskirts where running a typical bus line is just too expensive. The most reasonable alternative here would actually be a demand responsive shuttle service that should serve the underserved community needs and guarantee high connectivity, affordability, and equitable access. Similarly, in cases where public transport just would not make sense, additional mobility supply should act as a supplement to it, rather than competing with it. This is especially true with micro-mobility in high density and high access areas in city centers: launching public transport for short trips there would not generate enough traffic, thus electrical or classic bikes, kick scooters, and mopeds constitute the most logical option to get around.

Moreover, all of these mobility options must be able to communicate with each other and with the public transport system, i.e. exchange their positions, capacity, and occupancy, to allow network orchestrators to optimize the supply in real-time. This, together with public transport as a backbone, would guarantee that we always have a sufficient supply that allows us to book and ride any mobility option. However, to solve the aforementioned challenges, there is a significant missing component, one that would not allow such service to be agnostic to our transport choices.

Systemic orchestration guaranteed by public authorities

To build a truly equitable and safe mobility network, we need an entity to orchestrate it: one that by nature would not have profit as its main incentive, but rather fair and affordable access to the whole mobility network as the main goal. This would entail:

  • Creating a digital twin for the whole transport infrastructure,
  • Monitoring movement in real time,
  • Setting network parameters — restrictions and recommendations, e.g. speed limits, no parking or preferred parking zones,
  • Introducing dynamic incentives and deterrents to choose one option over the other at any given time,
  • Handling the sensitive personal data of all city residents moving in the network.

On a positive note, such orchestrating entities already exist — they are primarily known as public transport authorities. They have already acquired and retained a huge customer base, have planning skills and operational power, and, most importantly, a mandate to provide transport services for everyone at as fair of a price (if any) as possible. MaaS would, however, require for their mandates to be expanded and for them to start handling the whole mobility spectrum rather than just their public transit network. Some have already done that successfully already: while private mobility companies or actors trying to launch MaaS are struggling to cooperate and integrate other mobility providers to ensure a holistic mobility experience to their customers, public transport authorities like Berlin’s BVG or Munich’s MVG are naturally attracting all mobility network companies to integrate in public MaaS solutions, thus bringing value to city residents as fast as possible.

To be perfectly blunt: If public transport authorities are the only entities who actually manage to attract and convince mobility providers to hyper-connect into the mobility network that is, first of all, based on public transport, then one could argue that neither private nor hybrid MaaS models can guarantee what MaaS strives to guarantee — to be a legitimate alternative to privately owned cars. In other words, true MaaS seems to be public MaaS.

Read more about Mobility as a Service fundamentals

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

About Trafi

Founded in Vilnius, Lithuania, Trafi has been revolutionizing urban mobility since 2013. Our MaaS platform is designed to run even the most complex transport systems and has been trusted by Berlin (BVG), Brussels (STIB), Portsmouth & Southampton (Solent Transport), Munich (MVG), and Zurich (SBB). 

Trafi’s mission is to empower cities with state-of-the-art MaaS solution that helps to tackle their mobility challenges and to achieve ambitious sustainability objectives. Our white-label product offers all the features and components needed to launch your own-branded MaaS service. With more than 50 existing deep integrations to mobility service providers and payment facilitators, we help to reduce risk, cost, and time-to-launch for new services.

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