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Trafi Talks with Edeltraud Guenther: Building Sustainable Systems

At Trafi, we often like to talk about how MaaS systems can only be genuinely sustainable when they take environmental, social and governmental factors into consideration. We need to create MaaS systems that are balanced and serve a variety of needs, rather than simply being expensive and innovative solutions that are more inspiring to investors than to the actual end users who interact with them. 

Dr. Edeltraud Günther is a German economist and the director of the United Nations University Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES). Her research focuses on ecological risk management and the high cost of systems that fail to take ecological and social concerns seriously. Since Dr. Günther is an expert on the subject of environmental economics, we were happy to get her opinion on how to build sustainable mobility systems that are both economically and ecologically viable.

Trafi: MaaS concepts are referred to as the key to sustainable mobility, but we have a long way to go until mobility-as-a-service concepts are truly sustainable. What kind of issues should be addressed by the MaaS industry to ensure we’re making the right steps towards creating a sustainable future?

Edeltraud: First of all, we should be thinking in services, not in products. A different management and organisational culture across the transport sector needs to be cultivated. MaaS essentially builds upon the idea that the industry boundaries between individual and public mobility should become blurred. The automotive industry and public transport will have to work closely with governments to turn MaaS into a sustainable business model innovation, based on decreasing current resource intensity of transport systems and infrastructures.

“MaaS essentially builds upon the idea that the industry boundaries between individual and public mobility should become blurred.”

Second of all, there should be informed decision-making. Proper data governance is needed. A lot of real-time data is available nowadays in the transport sector and by various industry branches, but free, open platform data sharing is not there yet, which makes interoperability and proper steering by the public sector highly difficult.

In providing a supportive regulatory framework, governments will have to create a level playing field for all transport operators and mobility service providers. This would be in line with the UN SDGs 11, 12, and 13. Calculating the true costs of transportation would entail the internalisation of all external costs and effects of various transport means. If this is not realised, private MaaS initiatives and the industry will have difficulties in achieving the mobility behaviour shift that is needed.

MaaS model implementation helps to achieve SDGs 11, 12 and 13.

T: For Trafi, cities play an essential role in implementing and orchestrating MaaS. The reason is simple – in order to change our current reliance on car-centricity, citizens need a better alternative. In this case, “better” means holistic and accessible, without leaving anyone behind. What are your thoughts about the role of a city in leading the urban mobility revolutions? 

E: There are three parts to this. 

  1. Providing infrastructure: City governments and municipalities are key in implementing sustainable transport and enhancing urban mobility options available to their citizens.
  2. Initiating a participatory process: If they want to make their transport systems and infrastructures more accessible, this can only be done in close consultation and participation with citizens.
  3. Setting standards: Cities should take a leading role and have to set standards for MaaS operators, enabling participation of citizens and considering the needs of individual citizens and diverse groups of society.
Involving citizens in decision-making is the key to innovation. The “Superblocks” project in Barcelona is a successful example of this.

T: One of the most-discussed topics in mobility is how to make MaaS profitable. This opens up a much broader discussion: what does it mean to be financially sustainable in the context of mobility?

E: This would mean calculating the true costs of transportation and applying the logic of least cost planning, including all steps of the life cycle and all actors.

Trafi’s note: Least-cost planning methodology is a relatively new type of logic employed by economists to make rational decisions about mobility and transport infrastructure. Based on the well-established concept of cost-benefit analysis, least-cost planning emphasizes that all of the costs that occur when planning and building new infrastructure – including time costs, environmental costs and social costs – should be on equal footing with financial costs. Part of this methodology includes considering every step of the life cycle.

T: Who ensures that competition between mobility players remains fair? 

E: Supranational organisations, states, and cities have to ensure fair competition.

In Europe, well-established public transport networks are seen as a public service that should be affordable to all citizens.

T: Is it the task of governments or companies to determine the social affordability of MaaS? 

E: Public transport is seen – at least in Europe – as a ‘public service’ to be provided by the government, ensuring that it is also affordable to citizens. If MaaS becomes part of future public transport systems (as highly digitised public transport or “public transport 2.0”), then social affordability would apply to MaaS as well.

T: Why is it important to think about mobility from a resource efficiency perspective? Which SDGs should be targeted by the urban mobility transformation, and what efforts should be increased in order to achieve them? 

E: The current transport system is highly resource-intense, as the trend towards mass-motorisation and a rising number of motorised vehicles reflects. There is a high potential for sustainability thinking to change usage and consumption patterns, as reflected in SDG Goal 12 (sustainable production and consumption). However, other SDGs like 11 and 13 (sustainable cities and climate action) as well as 9 (innovation and job creation or economic growth) are also important and highlight the underlying importance of the Resource Nexus.

Occupancy rate in transport vehicles should increase to create truly equitable mobility. (Credit: Fabian Todorovic)

In the end, there are inter-goal tradeoffs between 9 and 11 and 12 and 13. MaaS as a business model innovation has the potential to solve these trade-offs. The Resource Nexus as advocated by UNU-FLORES provides a perspective for maximising the synergies and minimising the tradeoffs between the goals.

Great potential lies in increasing the occupancy rate of transport vehicles. This is where the potential with shared and pooled mobility lies. The concept of MaaS, which brings together shared/pooled mobility with established public transport, tackles exactly this.

Curious to know more about the future of sustainable mobility and how Trafi is helping to shape it? Read more on our blog or contact us for more information.