Mobility as a service: towards a sustainable future

Out-Law Analysis | 04 Nov 2020 | 4:56 pm | 6 min. read

Changes in working patterns and transportation needs as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic could be the impetus to mobility as a service (MaaS) fulfilling its promises of more efficient and more sustainable transport solutions.

MaaS as a concept has been subject to much hype in recent years, but problems around data sharing and unsuccessful adoption in certain cities have led some to doubt its potential. Covid-19 has changed the landscape, with an increased willingness among the public to share data if required to ensure safety and reliability, as well as increased enthusiasm for 'micro mobility', such as electric and shared bikes and scooters.


Written by Natalie Sauber, market intelligence and future mobility expert at Arcadis.


Ensuring that the cities of tomorrow remain liveable and sustainable has become one of the defining challenges of our times, and a well-functioning transport sector will be one of the major determinants of this. MaaS offers solutions, but future success will depend on companies being able to more fully integrate existing modes of transport. Eventually, the adoption of autonomous vehicles will ensure that transportation systems can more flexibly adapt to daily changes in demand and ensure the resilience that is required by users.

Why MaaS is so hard to achieve

MaaS brings together multiple modes of travel, combining options for different transport providers into a single service. From e-scooters to bikes, car and ride sharing to public transport, the idea is to have access to all modes of transport via a single payment platform.

Done right, MaaS will have an important role to play in the smart cities of the future; contributing to the reduction of both CO2 emissions and pollution, while improving the overall efficiency of the transport system and reducing reliance on private cars in urban areas.

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However, despite the global demographic trends in favour of a more encompassing solution to transportation, many experts in the field have lately been sceptical of the promises of MaaS, leading to the observation that its momentum was stalling. This has many causes and raises many questions.

With MaaS reliant on so many different stakeholders coming together, how do we ensure the benefits are distributed fairly? How do we solve the challenges around the business model, such as whether there is sufficient money in transportation to allow MaaS providers to make their cut too? As cities become mobility playing fields for multiple parties, how are we approaching the challenges to regulation? Would people even use the technology if it was more broadly available?

In a few instances, companies have found limited traction among citizens when rolling out their services, with the region of Flanders, Belgium only seeing usage of 3% for the purchase of transit tickets, despite significant integration with the existing ecosystem. Additionally, European countries in particular have seen a strong backlash against overly aggressive corporate use of personal data. The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018 put up further roadblocks to the broad adoption of this promising technology.

Public transport and social distancing

Against this backdrop, the global pandemic of 2020 has marked a dramatic change of behaviour and shifted many of our priorities. Many businesses have embraced working from home; while even during slow re-openings we have been able to witness the disruptive short-term impact on public transport, with an increasing number of people resorting to more private modes of mobility.

In just a short period, use of public transport has fallen by unprecedented levels of between 80% and 90% across all major cities – driven by government lockdowns and the fear of contracting and spreading the virus. Shared modes of mobility have become less attractive, and people are looking for alternatives that combine efficient transport with the need for safety.

'Micro mobility' and data sharing

As a consequence of the pandemic, we have seen a huge increase in 'micro mobility' - electric and shared bikes and scooters - due to its ease of use and compatibility with social distancing guidelines. Scooters and bikes are especially competitive within the short distances associated with inner-city travel, allowing citizens to avoid not only road congestion but also crowded public transport. Local governments have reacted quickly, increasing the availability of cycle lanes and making certain parts inaccessible by car.

While this appears to offer some long-term solutions to the problems of air pollution and congestion, the question remains how sustainable these new patterns of transportation might be (3-page / 2MB PDF). For example, as we head into winter, colder weather may push people once again away from micro mobility usage.

At the same time, Covid-19 has also shown the need and ability to better harness data. Contact tracing apps around the world allow governments to combat the virus more efficiently, with citizens often opting in voluntarily and sharing private transportation data. It is possible that this newfound positive predisposition towards data sharing will extend to new services that ensure an increased safety of our transportation system, while also making it more efficient and reducing emissions.

MaaS as a solution

What if, instead of being run separately in many cities, we could integrate bus and train schedules; taxi, bike and scooter availability; and car sharing usage into a single platform? This could allow users to optimise their routes along many dimensions, including speed, cost and safety, while ensuring that modes of transport are being used more efficiently than at present. In this new model, commuter routes would no longer be blocked in one direction in the morning and the opposite in the evening; some public bike stands would no longer lie empty while others are packed; and some trains would no longer be too full while others lie empty.

Natalie Sauber

Arcadis

Since the onset of Covid-19, we have witnessed a more systematic effort by companies and governments to more fully integrate existing user data with the understanding that this may ultimately not only be necessary, but beneficial. Against this backdrop, MaaS may finally be able to act as a technology-based, data rich platform that links transport users directly with operators

The integration of existing and new transportation data into a single platform could offer additional benefits. When looking for a new home, families would be able to accurately assess the impact on their commutes. Employees and companies could use real-time decision-making to assess if it made sense to meet in the office or work remotely and, ultimately, the transportation system could more readily adapt to unforeseen changes - such as daily pollution levels, outages on certain parts of the network or even the increased risks of a new virus.

Since the onset of Covid-19, we have witnessed a more systematic effort by companies and governments to more fully integrate existing user data with the understanding that this may ultimately not only be necessary, but beneficial. Against this backdrop, MaaS may finally be able to act as a technology-based, data rich platform that links transport users directly with operators.

Amsterdam's Zuidas Mobility Experience

Arcadis, together with the city of Amsterdam, recently designed and procured a MaaS solution for the Zuidas business district. The Zuidas Mobility Experience was a pilot MaaS project in which participants who currently drive to Zuidas for work were challenges to change their mobility patterns for a month.

To further deepen its mobility capabilities, Arcadis recently acquired Over Morgen, a Dutch consultancy focusing on sustainable urban development and energy transition. A consortium of four developers – Over Morgen, Amber, Radiuz and Transdev – created the Amaze app to give commuters a smarter alternative to driving a car to and from Zuidas. Amaze will combine public transport with shared mobility – including car sharing, ride hailing and bikes – in a bid to cut congestion and pollution.

Autonomous vehicles and the way forward

Looking ahead, MaaS can contribute to increased system resilience by providing more choice in mobility options and ease of use. It will also help to rebuild trust in the safety of the transportation network by providing real-time, multimodal information.

However, there are regional and practical differences. For example, underground trains and shared bicycles are not available everywhere, and commuting by bike is not feasible in many parts of the world and for many jobs. This will in turn lead to significant decoupling in the short to medium term, as MaaS solutions will first be rolled out in cities that already have data rick platforms and multiple transport options available. The lessons learned along the way will then inform infrastructure decisions to ensure other regions will also be able to benefit from these new platforms.

A final step towards a more general adoption of MaaS is likely to accompany the wider introduction of autonomous vehicles. Investment in the technology has progressed significantly, and now is the time to think about eventual integration with mobility platforms. In particular, the option of continuous use of vehicles with the ability to efficiently match supply and demand will allow cities to quickly react to changes in the environment - whether due to system outages or the emergence of a novel virus - leading to increased safety and trust amongst citizens.

Self-driving cars, delivery robots and shuttles are already driving out of labs and onto streets to help deliver food, goods and medical supplies. Chinese company Baidu, one of the leaders in autonomous vehicle technology, is using its driverless vehicles for frontline anti-epidemic work such as cleaning, disinfecting, logistics and transportation. In the US, for the first time, autonomous vehicles are being used to transport medical supplies and Covid-19 tests at the Mayo Clinic in Florida.

Ultimately, MaaS will not only be a solution for the transportation of people but also for goods, as governments try to simultaneously solve the strains put on their infrastructure by global population growth, urbanisation and the continued surge in e-commerce.

The way we move is changing radically – climate change, superfast telecoms networks, electrification, AI and digital payments are rewriting the transport rulebook. Autonomous and shared vehicles and mobility as a service are fast becoming a reality.