man holding phone in front of car

Mobility as a Feature (MaaF): Rethinking the Focus of Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

1 December 2022

From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series

David Hensher and Sampo Heitanen suggest that a paradigm change is required when it comes to Mobility as a Service (MaaS). They encourage a move towards transport services as part of a wider activity-focussed product mix driven by the private sector that is also financially sustainable.

Since its inception, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has attracted significant interest throughout the transport fraternity, with numerous initiatives designed to unite ‘silo transport services’ through a digital platform (Hensher et al. 2020). A key focus has been on promoting the ideals of sustainable outcomes with a particular emphasis on reducing private car use and promoting sustainable transport, especially public transport and micro-mobility. Since the ‘birth of MaaS’ almost 10 years ago, we have seen very limited evidence of meaningful changes in users’ travel behaviour resulting from the many MaaS products, whether they are true MaaS or an enhanced trip planner[1]. Why is this? We suggest that this has a lot to do with a focus on transport modes, transport suppliers and transport regulators where the real opportunity may have been stifled and missed. There is also an absence of any real effort to find ways of bringing the private car into the mix despite its dominant role in the mobility landscape (Hensher et al. 2022)[2].

Hensher (2020, 2022) suggested that a multi-service perspective may turn the tide as well as a recognition that the convenience of the private car needs to be embedded in a MaaS solution. Working with large insurance companies led both authors to realise that this multi-service idea can blossom when we engage with significant private enterprises outside of the transport sector whose focus is on what the customer really wants in a broad sense, unconstrained by the limitations or even ideologies of agencies that primarily focus on delivering transport services.

Recognising that transport and travel are derived demand constructs, mobility offers should be seen as an input into a larger activity-based paradigm of service delivery. This service-delivery-paradigm offers a wide range of non-transport mobility services that are essential to customers, and we argue that it is in this service delivery setting that transport integration might flourish. We call this Mobility as a Feature (MaaF) as a nice way of moving away from a dominating multi-modal perspective to a multi-service perspective. But there is a twist – we suggest that the future of MaaF in terms of an appealing business case, and even commercial success, should be driven by organisations who do not have a direct vested interest in transport supply ownership, but who have an extensive customer base to enable them to focus on the delivery of a broad-based fully integrated activity solution that inputs a range of appropriate transport solutions. This next generation interpretation of MaaS will require some time to be fully tested, but its appeal is the result of learning from the first 10-year (or generation 1) period.

Incentives and Payments

A critical consideration for MaaS and MaaF is how the incentives will work to deliver direct benefits to users, but also sustainability outcomes to society via changing user’s travel behaviour. To date, MaaS has typically relied on financial incentives, funded from trials or venture capital, and has obtained very limited scale of the uptake. We have seen almost no government commitment to subsidising MaaS beyond what they already do for regular public transport (Hensher et al. 2021)[3]. The future of MaaS as MaaF will require incentives that can be funded from a wider package of features of the subscription plan. It may also apply under Pay as you Go (PAYG), although this needs more careful consideration. Even where government might step up and provide MaaS-specific subsidy input, this may not be enough to turn the tide towards a sustainable mobility solution. It can, however, achieve this with the MaaF framework.

So how might it work? Fundamentally, we need to identify the set of relevant services that can be offered with varying levels of financial discount or even better services tailored and available only to MaaF subscribers. This gets us away from the total dependence that MaaS has had on only financial incentives when they have been limited to travel modes, and as a consequence MaaS has struggled to be more that a niche product. Under a niche market setting, it is not financially feasible to offer better service levels for shared modes such as regular public transport, on-demand buses services, ride share and micro-mobility. That said, one cannot imagine bus services with improved frequencies offered only under the multi-modal MaaS framework.

The real opportunities for a diversified portfolio of financial and non-financial incentives are evident when we focus on the activity set that represents the features (or multi-services) of the offered subscription plans but done in a way that can achieve both commercial and societal sustainability outcomes. This requires a greater focus on non-transport service offerings that are not seen as add-ons to a transport service, but rather the transport service is seen as an add-on (or complement) to these non-mobility offers. These services can, indeed must, include incentives linked to activities such as retail purchases, broad based tourist expenditures, and even white good purchases and credit card discounts on fees charged or any service that adds value to the MaaF offer. This is a subtle but important twist that recognises the nature of travel, which is a derived demand arising from people desire to participate in activities. It also opens up real opportunities to bring the private car into the mix in a sustainable way[4].

The Private Car in the Mix

Focussing on the private car, we can see it as a subset of MaaF. It is unlikely that a government agency is prepared to offer appropriate financial and non-financial incentives directly linked to the private car to make better use of the private car in a sustainable way, but a private sector organisation might well be able to do this or is already doing so in the case of insurance business[5]. Why an insurance business[6]? Most have a vested interested in insuring the private car as a significant revenue stream and have structures in place to make a car available (through a rental arrangement and even a car club) in the event of a car crash while repairs are being undertaken (often by a company with links to the insurance business). Insurance businesses also have a wider network of arrangements in place to offer attractive discounts on a variety of services for individuals who insure with them while ensuring they retain profitability. Insurance businesses operate in a very competitive market where they are constantly looking to grow their business and market share.

Insurances businesses have already expressed interest in the first generation MaaS as a way of delivering on a social licence[7], even if they have yet to integrate it into their business plan. The Sydney MaaS trial (Hensher at al. 2021, Ho et al. 2021, 2021a), for example, was undertaken in partnership with one of Australia’s largest insurance companies (Insurance Australia Group, IAG and, who also own the major car insurance company, NRMA ( MaaS Global has recently partnered with Unipol (Italy), a significant insurance company.[8]

Imagine a subscription plan under MaaF where the insurance company is the aggregator (or broker) that offers a range of incentives to private car owners who choose to insure with them (existing and new customers) that includes discounts on regular public transport and the offer of a range of e-micro-mobility services that are funded by the premiums paid by private car owners, subject to commercial obligations. The additional benefits through premium discounts on car insurance and maintenance costs can be provided where (a) the car is electric or hybrid (the insurer ‘earns’ the social licence), and/or (b) the car kilometres are reduced (the insurer benefits from fewer claims). These are emission-busting initiatives. It may also be possible to offer additional discounts where those kilometres (reduced or otherwise) are associated with a higher number of occupants in a private car[9]. Technology is available to measure this and if necessary, can be built in as part of embedded mobility.

The discount on reduced car kilometres is already in place[10] (with links to location of travel) and so is not an issue for an insurance business. In addition, service incentives can be provided that are not directly financial but have a financial benefit such as providing an e-scooter for free to facilitate a modal switch for the first and last mile trip associated with any main mode of transport (e.g., from where car is parked to a final destination, or to a train station).

Concluding Comments

MaaF directly focusses on where the greatest potential gains are in achieving scalability and societal sustainability goals, reducing the risk and increasing the ability to achieve an outcome that aligns with a business case that is both profitable, contributes to the social licence as well as delivers sustainable outcomes aligned with social development goals (SDGs)..

The focus of the 1st generation MaaS on non-private car multi-modal offerings has generally failed to impact where it aspires to do so. The old adage ‘to make public transport more attractive we have to make the private car less attractive’ still holds and is the reason why we suggest MaaS has not delivered on its aspirations. MaaF may offer a new and rewarding perspective.


Hensher, D.A. (2020) What might Covid-19 mean for mobility as a service (MaaS)? Transport Reviews, 40 (5), 551-556.  See also

Hensher, D.A., Nelson, J.D. and Mulley, C. (2022) Electric Car Sharing as a Service (ECSaaS) – acknowledging the role of the car in the public mobility ecosystem and what it might mean for MaaS as eMaaS? Transport Policy, 116, 212-216.

[1] The outcomes in Helsinki with Whim, however, have all been pointing to the right direction (24% said Whim helped them to get rid of the car or to avoid buying, more usage of public transport). The market has just been too small yet to really move the needle.

[2] The best way of making money within MaaS is to decouple price from production cost. In particular, we need to sell the concept of a car (including a courtesy car) but produce some part of it with another mode without losing too much on price perception.

[3] This comment refers mainly to western economies; however, we are seeing some commitment in Japan, and a recent plan in Milan linked to a competitive tender to provide eight successful bidders with the opportunity to compete, and to receive subsidy from government if they deliver on pre-defined key performance indicators. This idea was initially proposed in Hensher et al.  (2020, Chapter 8). This is, however, still essentially multi-modal,

[4] Lyft once pushed for an end to personal car ownership. Now it is betting that will continue and even provide a new source of revenue. Some 75 percent of its users own a car. “We’re meeting our riders and customers where they are,” says Jody Kelman, the company’s head of fleet. But growing up can be painful. The rollout of car services, in partnership with SpotHero for parking, roadside assistance provider Agero, and Goodyear service centers, is part of a revamp of its Lyft Pink subscription program. For $9.99 a month it gives users discounts on rides, priority pickups, a handful of free bike and scooter trips, and now four free roadside services per year and a 15 percent break on car maintenance services. “What I've realized is the opportunity is around reducing personal car ownership” rather than eliminating it, says Kelman. Over the past few years, Lyft and Uber have had to come to grips with the transportation business. It turns out that it’s very hard to make money off rides; neither has yet posted a true profit. Lyft’s share price has dropped more than 80 percent since it went public in 2019. In November 2022, the company laid off 13 percent of its workforce, citing economic headwinds.


[5] We do however recognise the possibility of support from a local city, to incentivise drivers to save on insurance premiums and take public transport on certain days under certain metered conditions. Some cars have a transponder built in that measures driving style and rewards good driving behaviours; it knows every trip and at what time, so it is feasible to examine the travel patterns an identity people who could be incentivised to use public transport over personal cars in some instances. Discussions with Andy Taylor are acknowledged.

[6] Health insurance organisations could also be added in.

[7] The term social licence is the level of acceptance or approval that stakeholders and communities extend to a project, site, company or industry.

[8] See also

[9] Which would also be recognised if the owner was making their car available to a community club.

[10] Even insurance via Woolworths: