The outlook for the future of mobility brims with possibilities including the prospects of autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and mobility as a service. But what is mobility as a service (MaaS)?

Still in the early stages of adoption, MaaS represents an emerging shift away from individually-owned modes of transportation and towards options that are consumed as a service.  The concept is an on-demand transportation distribution model where a single digital platform offers riders the most efficient, seamless connection from point A to point B by combining and coordinating various modes of transportation services.  These modes include, but are not limited to fixed route, on-demand ride-hailing and ride-sharing, taxis, bicycles and scooters, and many others.


The Vision

Although the industry is still working on the mechanics of a fully-functional MaaS system, we have an idea of what to expect.  Ideally, a rider would use a mobile app to book and pay for their whole trip. Passengers would have the option of paying per trip or subscribing to a plan that would allow them a specific number of trips per month contingent on the plan’s terms.  Once a trip is booked, the platform would work automatically to route the best modes of transportation, within accordance of the rider’s preferences, to arrive at the final destination.


Possible Universal Benefits

To understand some of the benefits MaaS might produce, we first have to understand the problems MaaS is attempting to solve.  MaaS began in response to the trend that population growth was exponentially on the rise.  As a result, urbanization around the globe has been increasing at a dramatic rate.  According to the U.N., around 68% of people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050.  Cities have limited space, so the influx of people into them places an enormous strain on existing infrastructure and land resources.

In addition to attempting to combat the problems of significant urbanization, MaaS could provide ancillary benefits:

  • Return of economic value. In 2017, congestion cost the U.S. $305 billion. These costs are rising and not just in the U.S., but all over the world. MaaS could enable cities to more effectively utilize the infrastructure they have in place while incentivizing riders—with lower costs—to incorporate alternative forms of transportation into their daily lives. If passengers and rides are distributed optimally, cities could clear their streets and regain their lost economic value.
  • Sustainable & Scalable. In a MaaS model, transportation providers should be able to gain optimal usage of their fleets. The software empowering MaaS distributes riders based on their trip and vehicle capacity, as well as a variety of other factors.  Fewer vehicles on the road would mean fewer emissions, which is a critical component in preserving the natural environment. Even as populations grow and demand for transportation increases, the MaaS model should continue to optimize its vehicle usage with the population growth trend, maintaining its efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Optimized routes. In addition to benefiting cities, MaaS could be ideal for citizens.  Not only could MaaS route the most direct trip, but it could also route scenic trips, or least costly, or include/exclude specific modes of transport.  For the commuter that wants to get daily exercise into the schedule, a bicycle could be part of the trip.  It could also close the first mile/last mile gaps by providing a curb-to-curb transportation option.

These are the potential primary benefits of MaaS, but many others are anticipated.  Some examples where MaaS is being experimented include Whim in Finland, Mobilleo in the U.K., Alphabet in Germany, and TripGo in Australia.


Challenges to the Realization

As with anything new, there are barriers to entry.  It is important to acknowledge and address the reality of the road ahead.  Some obstacles include:

  • MaaS is designed primarily for urban settings. MaaS may not work well in suburban and rural settings because of the distance between locations. This means that people who live in these areas will need other transportation options. 
  • MaaS is designed to be used through a mobile app. It’s possible that a user portal might become available for people to book trips on a PC, but the concept of MaaS is that access to transportation is portable and on-demand.  Not everyone will have access to nor will they want to use mobile devices to book trips.
  • Transportation agencies operate independently. If transportation systems continue to operate in silos, it will become more difficult to coordinate services for the riders across service areas.  Riders will benefit most from multimodal transportation if there is cooperation among transit agencies as it relates to infrastructure and shared resources.
  • MaaS may or may not be cheaper than owning a personal vehicle. For most people, MaaS is expected to be more affordable, but for people who make multiple trips per day and go to numerous places each day, the cost can add up.  An uninterrupted, streamlined method of payment/ticketing is necessary and subscription plans need to be made available so that riders can afford these transit services.

There is a long road ahead before MaaS becomes commonplace.  But as cities look to solve problems that come with growth and development, transportation and software providers must work together to provide a solution.


Want to learn more about MaaS and how Ecolane fits into the mix?  Contact us today.

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