Recent years have seen a rapid expansion of technological tools, data availability, and transit services. Though it can be overwhelming, there is enormous potential for transportation planners – within both urban and rural systems – to harness these new digital resources for the benefit of community mobility.
One trend that is bubbling to the surface and is worth exploring is called Mobility as a Service (MaaS). MaaS is essentially the next step in the progression from isolated agency-by-agency information and operations to One-Call/One-Click transportation information models. The philosophy behind MaaS is to direct people to their most appropriate mobility options, in real time, through a single, unified trip planning and payment application.
This term is frequently confused and misused, and it is important to understand what it means. According to the MaaS Alliance, the goal of MaaS is to integrate as many mobility options as possible in a given area into a single interface, like an app, that “facilitates a diverse menu of transportation options” for customers’ on-demand needs, and “offers added value through the use of a single application to provide access to mobility, with a single payment channel.” This approach likely makes transit more organized and “provides an alternative to the use of the private car,” being just as convenient and likely cheaper.
It is noteworthy that MaaS systems have transit services, where they exist, as their backbone, after which all other modes (e.g., car sharing, car rental, bike sharing, TNCs, microtransit) are added.
It is cumbersome and often overwhelming to have a different app or website for every service available. Navigating and understanding transportation network companies (Uber or Lyft), ridesharing companies (Zipcar or Car2Go), bikeshare, public transit, paratransit, and other local modes of transportation through separate interfaces would likely entrench current habits. MaaS streamlines these options and gives mobility professionals a space to educate community members about the transportation available to them that they could incorporate into their daily lives.
Through MaaS, mobility management professionals can more efficiently connect community members to the options that best fit their needs. On the provider side, MaaS can maximize the value of public transit services and ensure that private actors also benefit the community rather than undermine it.
People want the most straightforward, seamless way to reach their destinations, and want to be able to choose the option they perceive achieves the right balance of convenience and cost. This is why even residents of cities with strong transit systems elect to drive, since their view is that waiting for a transit vehicle to arrive is a burden, and the cost of driving (whether accurately perceived by them or not) is a price they are willing to pay. Education within a MaaS system attempts to make all the costs associated with a particular mode, including driving, transparent so users can make the best decision using accurate information.
Humans are also creatures of habit, and even when it could be in their best interest, they will tend to resist changing from their current routines. A prime example of this hurdle comes with older adults who are reluctant to stop driving, as they often view cars as a representation of their independence.
In communities with an array of transportation options, such as large urban areas, embracing the MaaS model can help to educate travelers about alternatives to driving alone and spread demand across modes. Importantly, centralizing information and payment to maximize mobility makes the best possible options more accessible for vulnerable populations.
In contrast, small urban and rural communities lack the menu of options that can guarantee a person’s access to work or health care. MaaS would allow mobility managers in social service and public agencies to identify service gaps and opportunities to incorporate new providers into the network.
MaaS is also useful for tracking areas of need, with customers able to identify gaps in their network and provide feedback. To be more proactive, providers can even actively determine areas of unmet demand by tracking searches for origins and destinations and comparing to service availability.
Transit providers can use MaaS to stay ahead of the curve, developing partnerships rather than rivalries with new and existing options in their service area to fill the gaps that public agencies can’t while also maintaining control of and prioritizing mobility for the people who need it most.
There are multiple steps to reaching the full concept of Mobility as a Service. In response to this new and promising trend, this is the first in a series of blog posts over the next month that will show what communities should look for as they develop MaaS, and how they can move the field in this direction.
Keep an eye out for our “Mobility Management in Practice” brief at the beginning of March, and mark your calendars for our MaaS webinar on March 8th at 2:00 EST.