Van travelling on a highway

Private Assets as a Service (PAaaS) with reference to the Private Car as a Service (PCaaS)

1 May 2023
From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series

It is increasingly recognised that a role for the car will have to be factored in more carefully if MaaS is to grow in value.  In this piece, Professor David Hensher looks at the idea of a Private Car as a Service (PCaaS).

It is popular to label many new initiatives with a title and acronym that includes '…as a service (…aaS)'. Mobility as a service, or MaaS, is the most cited idea (Hensher et al. 2020). MaaS however, despite its intuitive appeal, is struggling to develop a future, with the business case and indeed the commercial case yet to be proven. While a growing number of App developers are parading their digital capability as delivering a MaaS capability, in the main we see little more than another trip planning app, which while it may have merit in some markets (especially global tourism where knowledge of local services is limited), it struggles to attract significant market interest in many markets where there is a dominant amount of habitual mobility behaviour or behaviour change that is typically from one mode to another and which does not need a trip planning App, or need a pay as you go or subscription plan under a multi-modal MaaS offering, even with generous financial incentives.

Sadly, MaaS appears to be in trouble, and the recent announcement that the pioneering MaaS Global (linked to Whim) is running out of money and has let its staff go, with a request to interested organisations to step in to help keep the agenda alive2, speaks volumes for what is happening in this fragile market. Despite this, the enthusiasm for MaaS without a business model continues unabated. Time will tell whether MaaS, as typically promoted, has long term legs (Hensher 2022)3.

What we do know after at least five years of seeing how MaaS might progress as a relevant societal-focussed contributor, is that unless it can change travel behaviour in a behaviourally meaningful way aligned with broad-based societal objectives, which includes reducing private car use in metropolitan contexts, and improving well-being and reducing social exclusion in rural and regional settings, then one questions why MaaS should be pursued (Hensher and Mulley 2021, Hensher et al. 2021).

It is increasingly recognised that a role for the car will have to be factored in more carefully if MaaS is to grow in value and indeed deliver on societal sustainability objectives. Hensher, Nelson and Mulley (2022) discussed this in an urban setting with the idea of electric car sharing as a service (ECSaaS), with a focus on a corporate commitment to investing in the vehicles that is accessible through a MaaS subscription offer.

Another idea4 which may, initially at least, have great appeal, especially in a rural context is what I am calling 'Private Car as a Service (PCaaS)' or more generally "Private Assets as a Service (PAaaS)". The idea is based on a critical need to provide mobility services to residents of regional towns and rural hinterlands who have a need to visit medical specialists who are located many kilometres away, often over 200 or more kilometres, and where they are likely to have to stay overnight. An increasing number of aging individuals (often frail), require a carer or friend to accompany them and typically do not have access to a car, and local community transport (CT) services typically do not service such long-distance mobility requirements. Where CT does service them, it often involves transporting several individuals (in a small combi van) who then have to either wait to see a specialist if they arrive too early to accommodate other people or have to wait around to return home until the last person has seen a specialist. In addition, they may have to stay overnight if the timing of the meeting creates a problem in returning home on the same day. Alternatively, the CT service may transport the client part of the way (e.g., to a rail interchange) which may not be very suitable for someone with special requirements.

One potentially attractive way of resolving this is to match a private car trip with a person in need (recognising that they may need to be accompanied) who has to get to the same or close by destination. To ensure that there is safety and security including quality of vehicles in this process, we propose a community membership club (CMC)5. There is no fee to join the CMC, but when a person requests a lift to a specific destination, there will be a small fee in the way of a donation which will be dispersed to the owner of the CMC and the driver of the private car. The apportion and sum can be decided on a case-by-case basis with some guidance on what might be deemed a fair and acceptable allocation by all parties (for example, a 50:50 split of $20). In addition, the CMC may coordinate with accommodation services to offer discounted overnight stay where that is necessary.

What this does is speak to the need for much needed services for regional and rural residents who are at the high end of the spectrum of social exclusion and low levels of well-being. Community led initiatives like this will need some kick-start financial support which seems to be a sensible way for governments to invest in a commitment to improve social exclusion and well-being through mobility enhancements that are much more flexible and with greater spatial coverage than can ever being achieved with regular public transport, on-demand bus services, community transport and commercial ride share.

This may be an attractive feature aligned with the aspirations of MaaS but developed initially as a uni-modal offering through a CMC. It not only opens up new mobility offerings but also grows new friendships and a feeling of belonging that has to be a positive contribution to the sharing economy. In this way, the preserve of maintaining the private car (even when electric and autonomous) can be reinforced by an alignment with societal sustainability objectives, something that appears to have eluded MaaS in metropolitan settings.

  1. Suggestions by John Nelson are appreciated.
  3. Corinne Mulley in a personal communication (14 October 2022) has made the following comment: "Bundles are difficult to sell unless they are targeted at segments and then only if it is cheaper than what customers would normally spend (unless there is a subsidy).  People don't seem to be prepared to pay for the app (which is to me unsurprising). I have always maintained that unless one can make the package cheaper – even if it is through cross subsidy, why should people pay for it. Business models are tortuous with the mix of subsidised and market priced modes. Maybe it will be rural MaaS that takes off where tailoring trips with an app might find favour and where additional modes not readily understood/available become more apparent on the app."
  4. The idea evolved out a discussion with Lee-Ann Breger, Programs Director, iMOVE CRC.
  5. This club could be linked to CT but could be a stand-alone citizen supported not-for-profit business. The CMC could also be organised by local government or set up as a social enterprise entity.


Hensher, D.A. (2022) The reason MaaS is such a challenge: a note, Transport Policy, in press.

Hensher, D.A. and Mulley, C. (2021) Mobility bundling and cultural tribalism - might passenger mobility plans through MaaS remain niche or are they truly scalable? A Topical Issues Paper, Transport Policy, 100, 172-175.
See also:

Hensher, D.A., Mulley, C. and Nelson J.D. (2021) Mobility as a Service (MaaS) – Going somewhere or nowhere? Transport Policy,111, 153-156.

Hensher, D.A., Ho, C. and Reck, D.  (2021) Mobility as a Service and private car use: evidence from the Sydney MaaS trial, Corrigendum to "Mobility as a service and private car use: Evidence from the Sydney MaaS trial" [Transp. Res. Part A 145 (2021) 17-33] Transportation Research Part A, 145,17-33.

Hensher, D.A., Mulley, C., Ho, C., Nelson, J., Smith, G. and Wong, Y. (2020) Understanding Mobility as a Service (MaaS) - Past, Present and Future. Elsevier, New York ISBN 9780128200445

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.