Nomad Digital Blog: Let’s talk about Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS)

Tuesday, 5th February 2019

I have to be honest and say that Mobile-as-a-Service was not entirely at the top of my conscious and something that I’ve tried to understand up to now, but it is probably something that will grow as a trend moving forward into 2019 and 2020.

You may have heard terms such as PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service), SaaS (Service-as-a-Service) that are often used in business these days. Mobility-as-a-Service is the process of joining several themes together. These themes are: Cloud computing, social mobility, electronic transaction services and travel documents, environmental improvements, car sharing and improved use of integrated public transport.

 

What is Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS)? 

It is an integrated transport solution service that allows you to pay for your transportation, on a needs by needs basis. It is part of the UK Government’s solution to encourage more people to use more public transportation services.

When looking at how MaaS would operate, the UK’s Deputy Chief Scientific Officer, Chris Whitty stated the following challenges:

It should be no more expensive in the aggregate than currently, though who pays is a policy choice;

It should not systematically exclude anyone from travelling;

It should fit with obligations on air pollution and carbon targets; and it should enable people to get from A to B without using their own vehicle, though it would not preclude people from owning vehicles.

I am keen not to portray MaaS as a trendy ‘travel’ option whilst the rest of us continue to travel around in our cars. The biggest challenges that the UK Government / devolved Governments have is that everyone is very attached to their own personal transport mode (such as the car) and very little would persuade us change.

In terms of the big political issues, we need not look any further than across the English Channel to France, with the President Emmanuel Macron and the gilet jaune movement protesting against living standards and the cost of fuel. In France, the price of fuel has increase between 18-20% in the past two to three years and unemployment is around 10%.  Fuel poverty is a great threat to modern western lifestyles. We are so dependent on the stuff and asking us not to use it or to completely change our lifestyles (and this next bit is key) without offering a viable alternative – is not going to wash.

As people, we need a roof over our head, food in our stomachs and an occupation that challenges us and allows us to be rewarded with money. Our lifestyle has the potential to derail itself without our own transport. The Government terms it, Social Mobility, not just a phrase meaning we are using transportation to visit friends.

I could write all day about how this won’t work for people that live in rural locations, but this would be a cheap shot and dismisses what the Government is trying to achieve. What I want to address is how technology can help deliver MaaS.

 

Luxembourg’s free transport conundrum

Our friends in Luxembourg are keen to show the way forward, by making all public transport completely free.  In an article published in the UK’s Guardian Newspaper it seems that congestion and administration in this small country of 2590 square kilometres have the same challenges as the rest of the world; how to get people around in a quick, easy and cost-effective manner. What struck me was that the administration of collecting fares seems to be high, so the view would be that they are just going to make all transport free.

In a first world country like Luxembourg, this may be achievable. Taxes fund the operation of the transportation network and makes the operation viable. The question being; can Luxembourg keep the quality of its public transport to make it an attractive proposition?

The Luxembourgers take a view that Public Transport is operating for the national ‘good’ and therefore all parties must pay for its operation.

 

It’s the last mile problem

Public transport in 2019 is actually quite good. We have regular buses, trains, trams and boats that get us all to places that are near where we want to go, but not actually to our home, place of work or friends/family we want to visit. Let us take the humble bus as an example; across the UK most of the bus services are subsidised by Local Government (Country/District Councils). The Local Government has had its grant from Central Government cut on an annual basis since 2008. This has meant that non-essential or statutory services have been cut. Caught in the middle of this are the Bus companies (commercial organisations) who have had their grants from local councils cut.

On a microcosm, my local bus between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh has been cut from an hourly service to a two-hourly service due to council funding cut backs. There is no bus that arrives in Berwick-upon-Tweed before 9.30am, so if I relied on the bus service, I could only work in Dunbar or Edinburgh. I would have to leave work and catch the last bus home at 6.30pm. It makes the service unattractive (especially if I must be at work in Newcastle for 8.30am in the morning). So, I choose the car to start my journey to the local railway station and continue my journey on the train.

Although Bus companies are independent and can run wherever they deem a service is needed, they are still bound to provide certain statutory services. For example, where train lines were closed in the 1960’s “Reshaping of Britain’s Railway” under the infamous Richard Beeching, it is still a requirement to run replacement bus services that mirror those former train line services – over 40 years after the train service left. The reason why the train lines failed were because they cost too much to run and where too little used.  Bus services are going the same way – empty buses travelling on poor used routes; again, the car is the winner.  If you cannot provide a service that the travelling public actually want, then expect it to fail financially.

Jobs are changing, so transportation needs must also change but, transportation needs also vary depending on location. For example, if you live in an urban location, transportation is an easy commodity – cheap, quick and regular. The further you live, then the worse that service gets.

Technology improves the picture, because social mobility and the ability to do your job means that you don’t always have to travel to a location to perform the needed work.  It is envisaged that some public transport providers will cease trading if subsidies are cut any further, so in step small community projects such as East Riding Community Transport Scheme. Technology allows you to book a ride from your house to either your destination or next transport interchange. It should allow you to pay (either by using an ITSO compliant smartcard or via mobile payment technologies) as well as integrating the ticketing options using multiple modes of transport (e.g. Bus/Train).

 

Commercial Partners

The current UK (and European) Government policy is that transportation needs are devolved and that private companies offer better value for money than the old-style transportation cooperatives or Government run organisations. To that effect, various MaaS partnerships have sprung up to provide solutions to the growing transportation needed of the country. These groups are a mixture of transport companies, transport executives, government bodies and technology partners. A growing issue is that with devolved transport (and devolved Governments), you cannot always get one answer or policy on how to setup these groups and how they will operate, what their funding sources will be etc. A typical search on Google will show you groups and partnerships in many parts of the UK. We need Government to give direction on what its end aims are, help the practice process of shaping, implement an initial service (trial) as well as bringing the concept into the public’s mindset.

 

Environmental Concerns

All these fancy words mean very little if they do not come with some real meaning and impact. As budgets tighten (at least in the UK), the environmental message of MaaS will be lost. Most people will place the environment at the bottom of their list, if their old polluting vehicle will get them to their place of work for little or no money. Cutting to the chase, if we do not improve our environment, then we will end up victims of the changing climate around us. The message is not sexy or wonderful and at the moment, it doesn’t affect most people on the ground. However, more extreme weather events are a result of the increased heat in the atmosphere, these do affect us.

People get frightened by both change and by the effects of change.  A sudden catastrophic change in the world’s climate will be even more traumatic if we don’t start discussing this now. Our leaders need to be strong and show resolve in helping us all to change our travel patterns. At the moment, it is estimated that between 25% to 26% of all global emissions are caused by transport.

 

It’s the Millennials who will save the day

The car has had its day and it is the Millennials that are showing us the way forward. Most millennials have an inconsistent income and are shunning learning to drive because, it is expensive to own a car and insurance premiums are excessive for that age group. In 2017, it was shown that in the last 10 years there has been an 18% drop in people passing their driving tests. Public transport has changed; in 2017 the UK Government showed that there was a huge increase in the use of public transport; the purchase of railway discount cards had increased as had the number of people using trains. In the last couple of months, a new national rail discount card for 26-30 year old people was released, so the Government is trying really hard to promote the use of public transport by offering a third off all rail fares to this age-group.

 

MaaS as a practical experience

It is going to take time to turn around public opinion. The marketing name MaaS is terrible, although I will stake my trademark against “MaaS Transport”.

Joining up several diverse ideas and concepts is a great way forward, but we need to be shown how to do this; how families and individuals can change their habits. We need support from employers to help make those changes and encourage people to use integrated transport.

 

Public Transportation and MaaS is a national service

Public Transport should be for everyone and we need to break down barriers to its use.  The concern is that whilst people are staying relatively socially mobile, there are gaps at the poorer-end of the population to allow people to travel from A to B.  Even as I write, UK Rail fares have gone up 3.1% across the board. For 10 years, rail-fares have increased year on year and the calls for renationalisation of the UK Rail network keep on getting louder; these calls mask an underlying issue for the cost of public transport as a whole. The costs are not consistent per km or mile. The costs are also not shared evenly across the population, so the people who really need/rely on transportation are the ones who pay the most.

For MaaS to succeed, there will need to be full transparency of each and every fare. This transparency is difficult at the moment as most public transport companies are in private hands and commercial agreements exist, which cannot be divulged to the public. A price – is just that – a price. Competitive operations of most routes do not exist, because there is not enough demand to justify operating two separate companies.

 

Conclusion

MaaS is an opportunity too good to miss, however the push to make it work will be hard. People need to be shown the benefits, how it can apply to their lives, the environmental cost and how little the cost of using the transport would be.

Public Transport would need to improve as a result, because old and dirty public transport still exists in many locations across the UK. If you can:

  1. a) keep the Transport reliable (it turns up when it says it will)
  2. b) keep it clean and tidy (regular cleaning)
  3. c) keep the cost of using it sensible (fares are shared across the population and are fair)
  4. d) keep the costs open and transparent
  5. e) when things go wrong, have the ability to be flexible, make restitution and provide an alternative.

Then, people will start using MaaS as a transportation model. Finally, Public Transport as a whole is a power for good in a country. It improves people’s prospects and the nation’s wealth.

 

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