Mobility as a Service (MaaS) can be and mean many things, but at essence it is the provision of a one-stop-platform for mobility. MaaS enables the public to plan and pay for a trip via the press of a button – integrating a vast range of services including e-scooters, public transport, ride-sharing, and taxis. Whilst this integration of services can provide users with easily accessible transport at low prices, it challenges governments on how to regulate so many alternative and competing mobility options. How can governments ensure public benefit over private interest?
Like any competitive market, MaaS can bring great technological innovation and competitive pricing; however, there are risks around market failure, over-supply, and transfer of risks and costs back to the public. Although there is substantial research on MaaS technology, business models, transport provider solutions and network impacts, there is far less research on the considerations governments need to factor in to ensure public benefit when enabling MaaS.
A number of Australian governments turned to Arup to help determine the full extent of what is involved to integrate MaaS into existing systems. This provided Terry Lee-Williams, Director of Transport Advisory in our Sydney office, the opportunity to get momentum on a global conversation of how MaaS could be governed and operated to maximise ultimate value to the public.
Orchestrated by Adam Farenden from our Cork office, a global-local conversation and research project unfolded. With a focus on better understanding financial and operational risks to successful implementation, and to help governments define their role in the MaaS transition, Terry and Adam collaborated with governing bodies, transport service providers, and MaaS platform developers. Together, they created a framework for MaaS integration that focuses on social benefit, and highlights factors that can erode this purpose.
Governments in Europe and Australasia share the goal of enabling social benefit through MaaS. Sitting at the core of governments’ ideal provision of public service are social equality (all people are equal and receive the same opportunities) and social equity (all people are granted access to the resources they need). However, struggle comes with reconciling the ultimate worth, often qualitative, against the significant implementation and regulation costs. Even in cities like Sydney, where sophisticated public transport payment systems operate, the introduction of pay-by-phone capability required a multi-million dollar investment.
A key tension sits between the concept of MaaS – all mobility needs in one place – and the prevailing model of competition. MaaS service content is like any digital platform content: competition is strong and divided between players. MaaS platform providers want exclusive agreements with transport service providers. This makes it hard for governments to decide which platform to direct their business towards. The resulting disconnect dilutes the benefits and inhibits MaaS from becoming the integrated product it strives to be.
To interrogate this further, the team led a workshop to explore the question: ‘What does government expect a MaaS-enabled transport system to look like?’ A clear front-runner was access to a flexible and transparent selection of both transport types and providers. Pay-as-you-go services via ticketing systems were preferred over a subscription-based approach. Accessibility—physical, societal and digital—was a priority, raising the question, ‘How do you improve accessibility for people facing disadvantage?’
It was agreed that MaaS needs to be tailorable, offering flexibility that is user-focused and malleable to individual needs. Convenience was similarly important, measurable in terms of frequency, efficiency, and service coverage. To achieve this, customer access to accurate real-time information is required. Fair access for customers to this information depends upon platforms refraining from ‘nudge marketing’ , or pushing people towards more profitable, and usually less sustainable, options.
‘Governments from Europe and Australia demonstrated a clear understanding that MaaS, if owned and operated as a commercial product, would struggle to reconcile the commercial imperative with the aim to promote walking, cycling and public transport,’ Terry said.
Data sharing was recognised as essential to achieving better service. Which in turn can add value to the economy, as outlined in Arup’s Urban Mobility in the Smart City Age report, which argues that opening data access to the development of digital transport systems has the potential to generate a global economic value of up to AU$1,345B per year.
When rolled out, data sharing must be carefully curated so that no individual can be identified, nor their travel patterns exposed. Competitors also need some protection of their user base and commercial performance. Both protections can be achieved with a data architecture that strips published data of some identifiers.
Workshop participants also reflected on how urban and suburban pockets are often associated with specific socio-economic demographics, and noted the risk of socio-economic separation. If sufficient mobility alternatives are provided, people can make decisions commensurate with their budget. Tailoring services to a geographic area based on a cross-section of demand and affordability could be a realistic prospect, but requires moderation. This reflects the difference between a requirement on licensed taxi operators to have universal coverage versus ride-sharing operators that are free to supply only areas with greatest financial gain.
Creating an open marketplace sustained by healthy competition is an important element in protecting the public interest. However, allowing market-driven MaaS solutions to control future mobility through lax regulation will leave governments and cities exposed to the direct and indirect implications of market failure. Issues that governments face with current transport systems include monopolies, information asymmetry and an imbalance of power, giving certain service providers an ability to dictate the rules of the marketplace.
Monopolies can emerge at multiple points in the mobility service flow: licensing and service providers; payment systems and transaction platform access; transport data and access to allocation algorithms. If transport data is not adequately shared, it prevents an even allocation of transport options and impedes the ability to gauge if a transport system is operating as intended.
By setting clear requirements for information sharing and performance reporting, governments can determine how relationships with multiple market partners can co-exist in a MaaS-enabled transport ecosystem.
‘We started out wanting to understand how MaaS could be useful to achieve government policy objectives. We ended up understanding that often, without government proactively orchestrating MaaS products and possibly consolidating the market, those objectives would not be met.’ Terry Lee-Williams
Manipulating customers through skewed service allocation and filtered information creates more than in imbalance in the market: it interferes with successful operation of multi-modal transport systems. ‘If governments are aware from the outset of the technical, financial and legal damages incurred by market failure, they are better equipped to prevent transport service providers and MaaS providers misleading mobility users,’ says Terry.
These complex challenges can seem overwhelming for governments. But by keeping focus on core purpose – nourishing social welfare, equity and accessibility – a governing body’s legitimacy is reinforced. And simultaneously, their role in the marketplace becomes more clearly defined. As we draw closer to a MaaS-ready future, the imperative placed on governments is to align their choices with those valued by their people.
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