MaaS: Changing the way you travel

Public transport authorities are increasingly looking to embrace innovative technology to meet user expectations and enable travellers to personalise their journeys.

Since the Oyster travel card was launched in 2003 by Transport for London, contactless bank cards, smartphones and smartwatches are now allowed to be used to pay for travel on London’s transport network, and countless hours have been saved as passengers no longer have to physically purchase tickets.

But the potential for authorities up and down the country to modernise the public transport network beyond multi-model ticketing systems is tremendous. For the last two years, getting around in Finland’s capital Helsinki has become much easier thanks to the introduction of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platform Whim.

MaaS is an innovative new approach to transport

Created as a practical alternative to car ownership, Whim offers customers a single smartphone app where they can arrange travel on buses, public bikes, trains, taxis and hire cars, on either a pay-as-you-go or subscription basis. Convenient payment options, e-ticketing, journey planning and booking are central to MaaS platforms like Whim, with this novel solution giving travellers unrestrained flexibility to choose the most suitable mode of transport for their journey, all on one intuitive platform.

Andy Taylor, director of strategy at Cubic Transportation Systems, the company that provides the technology behind London’s Oyster card, believes the inception of MaaS is set to change the future of transport, as long as public and private players can co-operate efficiently.

“Intelligent mobility has the potential to improve transport systems throughout the world, and we’re seeing a growing awareness of its potential in Europe with a number of pilots and deployments. The MaaS Alliance is doing a great job of co-ordinating and promoting MaaS, and operators within the region are looking at implementing MaaS programmes,” says Mr Taylor.

MaaS powered by smart use of data

At a time when data is one of the most valuable assets that both public authorities and private companies possess, a single platform for all travel purchases and journey planning can unlock powerful insights into passenger behaviour to perfect the demand and supply levels of transport networks.

Intelligent mobility has the potential to improve transport systems throughout the world

Few public authorities around the world currently make transit data openly available in a standard format to the public, with transportation website City-Go-Round finding that less than 30 per cent of the more than 1,000 transit agencies in the United States have an open data policy.

By bringing the best elements of public and private transportation providers together, a truly integrated and on-demand service can be achieved for passengers, which would be a major improvement on many of the current disparate transport networks. There are presently only limited real-world demonstrations of MaaS solutions, but these trials have already proved to be a strong step towards a more user-centric transportation ecosystem.

“This will set a precedent for other regions across the world to take notice and adopt similar models. Cities such as Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney have their long-term strategic plans for the transport network management in cities well defined, and MaaS is included,” explains Mr Taylor.

Leaps forward in technology needed to make MaaS a success

Connecting separate transport methods will let travellers plan trips with full insight into potential delays and quickly select the most appropriate route, while also allowing futuristic transport concepts, including the likes of self-driving cars, to be easily integrated into an end-to-end transport system and go some way to future-proofing this service.

But it takes more than just a joined-up transport network to make MaaS a practical success. Strong 4G coverage, widespread smartphone usage and cashless payment processors will need to form the base of any comprehensive MaaS system, alongside the ability of passengers to interchange seamlessly between transport nodes, with this vision requiring the collaboration of diverse stakeholders, which may prove difficult to accomplish.

The UK is also seeing the beginnings of MaaS innovation as Helsinki’s Whim mobility app was launched in the West Midlands last year. Whim subscribers in Birmingham can pay £99 a month for unlimited travel on public transport or £349 for unlimited use of public transport, taxis, bikes and car hire, with the company currently looking for the their first 500 users to sign up.

User base is small but growing 

It’s clear the user base of MaaS solutions is still small compared with traditional transport services, but the growing number of pilot MaaS projects indicates that the sector is coming closer towards an inflection point, with advisory firm ABI Research expecting global MaaS revenues to reach $1 trillion by 2030.

From the German-based Qixxit app that shows travellers the best flight, bus and train routes, and lets them purchase in-app, to Singapore’s Beeline app offering a crowdsourced transportation service where travellers can create new bus routes by demanding them, exciting innovations in public sector transport are now happening.

Smart cities require an equally smart transport infrastructure and with the United Nations estimating that 66 per cent of the global population will live in cities by 2015, MaaS promises to meet the challenges of rapid urbanisation.

“There’s still some way to go to see the full rollout of MaaS, but the idea of a more streamlined and cost-effective way of travelling around cities will be the catalyst for its faster adoption,” Mr Taylor concludes.