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Will Mobility as a Service make Travel Demand Management strategies redundant?

1 June 2020
From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series
Travel Demand Management (TDM) initiatives involve influencing people's travel behaviour in order to favour alternative mobility options. Professor Emerita Corinne Mulley and Professor John Nelson discuss how these strategies may be useful in the wake of COVID-19.

The recent past has witnessed considerable interest in the emergence of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Although there is no single accepted definition of MaaS, the concept has evolved to have a number of agreed components.  It is a one stop service integrating all forms -both public and private transport services – and  will provide customised access through a common interface, such as a smart app, so that information, booking (if necessary) and payment are facilitated in real-time for multimodal options to travel from origin to destination. A successful vision for MaaS also sees better options for those not owning a car for whom transport options might have been more limited, so making these citizens more socially included. The popular view of MaaS sees it as the centre of future collaborative and connected mobility.

Early concepts of MaaS envisaged travellers purchasing a “mobility package” in much the same way as individuals purchase a mobile phone package.  The traveller would be able to select the bundle that suits them best, using different forms of transport.  The many pilot schemes of MaaS have taken this approach and the most long-standing MaaS in Helsinki, Finland, also takes this approach. In almost all cases, access to public transport is implemented as the core of the mobility package.

On the policy side, MaaS is being seen as a way for users to satisfy their mobility needs without having to own their own car (whether this is a private car at present or an autonomous car in the future). In this way MaaS is seen as having the ability to reduce car traffic and in particular to reduce traffic congestion. As the MaaS culture matures, it might be expected that there will be huge variations in offerings, if the current pilot schemes in operation around the world are anything to go by.

The question motivating this ‘out of the box’ is whether, as MaaS matures, can it be a conduit for travel behaviour change?  Can a MaaS package, for example, provide selective discounts to ‘nudge’ travelling in a manner to be supportive of transport policy goals?  Could gamification be used to encourage the gaming of travel in the way policy wants (see Yen et al 2019)?

Travel Demand Management (TDM) initiatives are applied by transport planners to establish and enable appropriate use of critical transport infrastructure. Meyer (1999) defined TDM initiatives as an ‘action or set of actions aimed at influencing people's travel behaviour in such a way that alternative mobility options are presented and/or congestion is reduced’. TDM strategies are normally applied as a package including measures which directly affect private car use (e.g. parking restrictions or regulations) as well as ‘carrots’ to encourage public transport use.  A common example of a TDM measure to encourage public transport use is a travel plan that can be tailored to enable travellers to maintain their desired lifestyle whilst encouraging the adoption of low carbon mobility solutions, which in some senses is similar to the intentions of a MaaS delivery.  The introduction of TDM initiatives in travel plans via the workplace can give employers the unique ability to influence travel behaviour of large numbers of commuters. Indeed, it need not be just employers – Transport for NSW undertook a huge business employee consultation as part of a TDM project called “Travel Choices” (beginning in 2015) to reduce AM peak hour vehicle traffic entering, leaving and circulating within the Sydney CBD area impacted by the preparation for the light rail works,  which included the reorganisation of CBD bus services. Furthermore, both the journey to work, and travel within the course of work, can be addressed. Employees are also the target group of the current iMOVE-funded MaaS trial in Sydney in which ITLS are participating along with project partners IAG and Skedgo.

There are some obvious synergies between MaaS and TDM designed to encourage public transport use – both (broadly speaking) have the intention of encouraging the optimization of transportation systems for commuters (and other travellers) through facilitating enhanced accessibility, information, and traveller choice.

This raises the question as to whether MaaS has the potential to replace public transport strategies within a TDM package? The MaaS app could certainly replace public transport initiatives which might be promoted by TDM, such as personalised travel planning, green travel plans (such as that introduced at Rouse Hill, NSW), and travel plans introduced in response to infrastructure building disruption, and other softer measures to influence travel behaviour (like carbon footprint data). How does this leave the policy maker trying to build an overall TDM package?  They would be left with the ‘sticks’ (e.g. road closures or parking management) with the ‘carrots’ of public transport initiatives being actioned by the MaaS application. Ultimately, TDM as we now know it (a package of ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’) would become redundant and we should question whether policy makers can lose one of their tools and still move towards a more sustainable transport future.

As an addendum to this piece written before the COVID pandemic, we now ask the extra question as to the role of TDM and MaaS in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’ world. We see people being nervous about public transport yet businesses needing to grapple with finding ways to operate, potentially with staggered start and finish times. A transfer to car travel will compromise not only sustainable transport goals but also climate change aspirations. This surely suggests a greater role for TDM in the short run by recognising its ability to package ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ and a lesser role for MaaS whilst public transport travel re-establishes itself to become the core of MaaS activity.

Further information

Meyer, M.D., 1999. Demand management as an element of transportation policy: using carrots and sticks to influence travel behavior. Transp. Res. Part A. 33, 575–599.

Yen, B. T. H., et al. (2019). "Gamification in transport interventions: Another way to improve travel behavioural change." Cities 85: 140-149.