When is Mobility a Service?

There is much talk about mobility as a service (MaaS) providing a unified gateway which allows users to pay for transport with a single account. The key concept behind MaaS is to offer travellers and goods mobility solutions based on their travel needs. We recently undertook a review of potential approaches to MaaS market development funded by Scottish Enterprise.

MaaS is not new but is the re-incarnation for a technology era of services to organise and bundle transport solutions. Designing convenient packages for users and businesses within affordable budgets was the type of service led by travel agents in the 20th century, but recently travellers have made more direct transport purchases squeezing out the role of the intermediary. Techology is providing a new way to join up services, and the growth of more automated transport, combined with increasingly smart communications offers the potential for better targeted, timely and relevant services for users. MaaS has the potential to reboot the travel agency role for this new era, but only if it can correctly service people’s needs and reconcile them with transport system capabilities.

Neither of these ifs are easy. People’s needs are a complex function of expression and desire, organised within a social system where fairness and opportunity are important for successful delivery. The transport system has limited capacity. Shared space is subject to many constraints and suffers from compound market failure.

It is 10 years since the UK government published its in depth guidance on how to organise transport solutions around people and to enable integrated journeys from A to B – ‘Making the Connections – Guidance for Local Authorities’. Since then, this groundbreaking policy change has been feeding its way through into delivery through thousands of projects and programmes across the UK. From hospital access schemes in Nottingham to travel accounts for employees of many blue chip companies, these new transport services have been spreading and growing through small bottom up schemes.

What was seen as a market failure a decade ago, is transforming through technology into a large market opportunity. Approaches that began with locally-based, grassroots-funded initiatives are increasingly led by global, venture-backed corporations. Uber, Google, Tesla, and Apple are just a few of the companies now driving the pace of change. Increasingly autonomous vehicles are expected to accelerate the transition from an ownership to an access economy. A 2013 parliamentary inquiry noted that ‘Better accessibility concerns all parts of Government and should no longer be seen as just a transport issue and the Department for Transport struggles to bring about such a change of emphasis’. That change of emphasis is now central to the business plans of many of the world’s largest companies.

Some of these global corporations are also progressing social changes. For example Facebook’s financial rewards for staff who live within walking distance of their work, echo on a grand scale the small staff travel plan schemes across the UK which have rewarded socially desirable travel choices. Overall, though, the social progress lags the commercial aspirations, so many current business dreams will end in tears.

The research for Scottish Enterprise is complete but the delivery agenda is only starting. We will continue to work with clients and partners to help with ‘Making the Connections’ into successful MaaS markets.

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