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The limits of MaaS: Strong public transport must be the foundation of integrated networks

While MaaS very well may be the future — and is taking off across the UK and Europe — it simply can't be prioritised over public transport itself.

Via Transportation •
With the UK government wrapping up its third consultation on mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) earlier this year, the future of this much hyped concept is now back in the limelight. Defined ambitiously as ‘the integration of various modes of transport along with information and payment functions into a single mobility service’, MaaS has promised a lot – but is still very much in its infancy worldwide. And some in the field worry that an over-emphasis on MaaS could distract from the urgent need to invest in the actual bus services that are linked together by such platforms. Still, the industry has made great strides, particularly in continental Europe. Finnish firm MaaS Global has implemented its Whim app in a handful of European cities, while Berlin’s Jelbi app has shown how a public operator can also get in on the MaaS game.
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In looking to establish its “code of practice” for implementing MaaS solutions, the UK government also has some limited examples to work from closer to home. Two projects in particular have highlighted how it could work.

MaaS in practice

In London, Citymapper launched an all-inclusive pass in Zones 1-2 in early 2019 (and now extended to zone 6) – marking one of the first MaaS products brought to the UK. The ‘Super Duper Pass’ currently offers a weekly subscription to public transport, unlimited Santander Cycle hire and £10 weekly credit for some taxi and private hire vehicle services, e-bikes and scooters. The pass is available with Apple Pay and Google Pay, or as a smartcard. Another example is the Solent Transport MaaS project – which covers the cities of Portsmouth, Southampton and the more rural areas of South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The project is part of £28.8 million of funding allocated from the Department for Transport’s Future Transport Zones (FTZ) programme. "For riders without access to reliable and convenient public transport services, the value of any MaaS platform is inherently limited." — Chris Snyder, European CEO, Via The regional MaaS app will be the first multi-city product in the UK and will consist of a journey planner, smart ticketing and a payment system, and will experiment with incentives to encourage travellers to use more sustainable modes. It will also include a carbon footprint calculation to help people make choices that benefit their environment. Rail, ferry and bus connections, as well as bikes, e-scooters and car rental services will all be available from the MaaS app.

While technology linking services together may be useful in planning, the need for quality transit is undoubtedly the number one priority for cities. Without this, there is a danger that MaaS can simply be a superfluous distraction.

The code

In assessing how MaaS schemes could work on a national level, the UK government has published a set of guidelines to serve as a ‘code’ for cities. This code could entail:

  • Guidelines for new entrants to the market and incumbent MaaS platform providers to aid navigation around relevant legislation
  • Support to new businesses in the MaaS industry to make decisions in line with government goals
  • Encouraging MaaS platform providers to include carbon data for each route offered in order to help consumers choose lower carbon journeys
  • Ensuring services are inclusive and accessible to all customers from the outset
  • Providing best practice examples of MaaS solutions
  • Assisting local authorities in developing or considering platforms to operate in their areas and developing local solutions that build on nationally agreed standards.
But rather than viewing MaaS as a panacea for patchy systems, some operators are seeing its potential as a layer of connectivity on top of an already-functioning transit network. This view is echoed by those in the TransitTech sector. “We’re naturally excited about the potential of MaaS to make every available transport option visible within a single convenient platform,” said Chris Snyder, Via's European CEO. “But for riders without access to reliable and convenient public transport services, the value of any MaaS platform is inherently limited. That’s why we’re focused on the problem from both sides: our software fills in gaps in existing transport networks, usually with DRT or other flexible modes, and also integrates them with local fixed-route services so that passengers see the best available option when they go to book a trip through our apps or call centres.”