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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.