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Mobility as a Service: with great potential comes great discussion

As the number and diversity of urban mobility services is rapidly growing all over the world, it is no wonder that Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is such a hot topic. Dubbed by many as the long-awaited answer to more sustainable cities and how to truly get people out of their cars, MaaS deserved a natural spotlight in the UITP Summit’s agenda.

There are still many questions to be answered. With MaaS joining so many different stakeholders, how do we make sure everyone enjoys the benefits? As cities become playing fields for multiple parties, how do we regulate data? And – maybe the most important question – how do we make MaaS truly work and how does public transport remain its backbone?

All of these questions were on the table during the session ‘MaaS: Creating value for all business partners’. Moderator David van Kesteren, Chair of UITP Combined Mobility Committee and CEO of Cambio Taxistop, got straight to the point: “If whatever you give the citizen is not of quality, he will return to his old habits and take the private car. MaaS needs to be simple, impartial, personal, and creating extra value.”

As addressed in UITP’s latest Policy Brief ‘Ready for MaaS? Accelerating easier mobility for citizens and better data for cities’, there are many ways to build MaaS, with them all having advantages and disadvantages depending on the view of each player. When asked what model they believed in most, most panellists indicated a mix between the open back-end platform set up by a public entity with rules determined by the public authority, and the model where MaaS is run by public transport with selected mobility services. Roger Kesteloot, Director General at Flemish operator De Lijn, summarised it nicely: “It’s rare for anyone to follow just one MaaS model.”

A discussion about MaaS is automatically a discussion about data. “Open data that is available to anyone is the foundation on which MaaS needs to be build – it is the only way to a competitive model that the traveller has the right to”, said Jake Sion, COO of Canada-based Transit App. This was also underlined by Muna Al Osaimi, Director Strategic Planning at the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in Dubai: “When data is open, innovation and creativity are also out there – for everyone to grasp and to implement.”

With the statement “The aim is for public transport operators to become the Amazon of mobility, with public transport services at its heart”, Alexandra Reinagl, CFO of the Austrian operator Wiener Linien touched upon another important issue addressed by the panel: there is need for a proper regulatory framework that ensures that high capacity public transport and active modes remain the backbone of MaaS.

The Nordic countries count among the most advanced in setting up MaaS schemes. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark each chose different approaches, which we heard about during the lunch session ‘Different MaaS models in Scandinavia’, organised with InformNorden. Inviting both public and private players, the session’s biggest insight might just have been that the same questions were raised at both sides.

Kicking off the session was Camilla Struckmann, CCO at Danish PTA Movia, who emphasised the importance of offering MaaS schemes in rural areas. “MaaS is a good thing if it is not just offered in cities where all services are already available. We cannot give up to improve mobility in rural areas.”

Martia Albrektson from Västtrafik, the PTA that is currently running three MaaS pilots in West-Sweden, talked about how piloting is needed to actually remove practical barriers. “We all know that the technique is there, but it is only when you start experimenting that you see the practical barriers: who do we sign agreements with, who has the final ownership over the data, who is the contact point for the customer?” Also focussing on the practical side of things was Endre Angelvik, Vice President Mobility Services at Ruter. “We have to look at the everyday logistics – how can we build a MaaS that enables families to take their kids to afterschool activities without a car?”

Not surprising, the matter of what MaaS model works best was also discussed here. Jonna Pollanen of MaaS Global described it perfectly: “What we need is an open ecosystem, not an egosystem – other industries are successful because there is competition. MaaS should be no different.”

Finally, also ‘backstage’, the topic of MaaS was the talk of the town. The side-event ‘Stakeholders Workshop on MaaS technologies’ joined the research and innovation (R&I) projects IMOVE, Galileo4Mobility, SMaRTE, My-TRAC, Shift2MaaS and COHESIVE to find common ground on MaaS. Because while all projects have a rather different approach and objectives, the exchange of knowledge and the building of partnerships is what will take us closer to a MaaS offer that works for everyone.

It seems that with great potential, also comes great difficulty. The many modes and possibilities that create the high hopes we have for MaaS, also mean we have to dare to experiment, learn from those who might know better, and stay open to new partnerships. MaaS is here to stay – it is now up to us to fulfil its full potential.