Intelligent Mobility in the Suite of Future Transport Options

7 January 2020
From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series
Chinh Ho explores options for emerging products in the sphere of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), and discusses the considerations that need to be taken into account when designing such products.

We are witnessing the beginning of the next transport ‘revolution’ with the introduction of new mobility services such as Uber, OLA, MaaS (Mobility as a Service), and AV (autonomous vehicles). This digitally supported transport revolution will undoubtedly impact many aspects of our lives, directly and indirectly. In the last few years, we have seen Uber disrupting the market and revolutionising the taxi industry. Travellers welcome the new ride-sharing services but cities around the world react to this differently, with some welcoming and others banning. NSW for instance, has changed the regulations to create a level playing field for both taxi and Uber, while Transport for London is set to strip Uber of its licence. This is a sign that Uber takes many by surprise. And we need to be more prepared for the arrival of MaaS and AVs. The question is why should we?

If we look at the taxi market, Uber and taxi together account for only 1% of total travel demand in Sydney. The market that MaaS aims to disrupt the personal car. The car market is much larger, and hence the impact of MaaS is expected to be much larger than the Uber effects we’ve seen on the taxi industry. Whether MaaS has the potential to promote sustainability by reducing the private car use will heavily depend on the market demand for various MaaS products. So what are emerging MaaS products?

On the low end of the spectrum, MaaS can be as basic as providing a digital platform that helps travellers plan, book and use different transport modes to move from A to B. Example products are TripGo and Moovit apps. In this most basic form, MaaS can be seen as a journey planner with some extra features that facilitate multimodal journeys. However, MaaS can be fully integrated services with many built-in features, including customised plans and financial incentives to alter behaviour. To understand how mobility plans works, thinking about a mobile phone plan that gives you unlimited talk and text to domestic numbers but limits the minutes you can call internationally. In a similar way, MaaS can offer unlimited PT and some Uber or taxi kms to promote PT use, and to address the first and last mile issue.

What do we know about the market demand for various MaaS products? The answer is not much, mainly because the number of studies on intelligent mobility is still limited, although fast-growing.

  • To date, we know that travellers are demanding a platform that can facilitate information requests, better match demand to supply, and finalise the booking and payment across transport services. What we don’t know yet is how much they would be willing to pay for such the app? A couple of studies looked at this and we are far from a consensus.

  • The travelling public also want to have a choice of payment method. That is, some want a pay-per-ride and some want to a prepay option that comes with some discounts.

  • How about the mix of transport services? Of course, the more the better; but if we have to choose, PT is a must have, followed by car-sharing. Other modes such as taxis and Uber are welcome but by only a segment of population, with the effect of car-rental and bike-share on bundle uptake still debatable.

  • Who are likely to be early adopters of MaaS? A few studies point to the same early adopters. These are people who exhibit multi-modal behaviour, they are concerned with the environment and a healthy lifestyle, they don’t see car ownership important and they don’t use car often.

These early findings help us better place intelligent mobility in the suite of transport options available to future travel markets. However, there are many more questions that we don’t have an answer yet such as how intelligent mobility will change the way people live, work and travel and its values to sustainability. I may be a bit sceptic but with the early evidence we have, I think uniting the existing transport services to make it MaaS will not be a game changer. We need much more than just a smart-phone app. We need to bring to the scheme more innovations that are sustainable, environmentally (alternative fuels) and politically (alternative to the current fuel excise) appealing.