A chance for sustainable mobility?

A chance for sustainable mobility?
© Kevin Korffmann copy

Michel Arnd of Polis offers the perspective of cities and regions on the future of Mobility as a Service

The introduction of shared vehicles and, more recently, on-demand transport (ODT) led to a diversification of mobility options. They fuelled hopes of establishing a sustainable transport system that can compete with the private car. At its centre is Mobility as a Service (MaaS), which aims to offer a comprehensive mobility package through a single interface. But while providers eagerly introduce new mobility modes to the roads of many European cities, forming a comprehensive MaaS system requires more effort.

Polis, the network of cities and regions for innovative transport solutions, recently released a discussion paper on the subject. The network supports the exchange of experiences and the transfer of knowledge between European local and regional authorities and provides decision makers with the information and tools to achieve sustainable mobility.

For passengers, the main value of MaaS is its ability to plan and pay for mobility through a single interface – a Smartphone app – including shared modes, ODT and public transport. The most advanced approaches even integrate all transport modes in a mobility budget. One can imagine a mobility budget as an allowance that enables you to travel a certain distance or on trips using different transport mode such as shared bikes or even an electric scooter. Implementing the mobility budget is particularly tricky, as it requires negotiations with the participating providers about reimbursement of their services. Research findings from UbiGo, a MaaS pilot project in Gothenburg, Sweden, suggest that the integration of different mobility services into a single offer is attractive to customers in terms of flexibility, convenience and cost, and can create a viable alternative to private car ownership. It may also encourage a shift towards more sustainable modes of travel such as public transport, walking and cycling.1

For authorities, a carefully designed MaaS system may provide a solution for other challenges, such as the spatial footprint of sharing. While the utilisation rates of motorised shared vehicles is almost double that of private cars, they are still unused for most of the day. For instance, a Berlin free-floating car scheme runs only 68 minutes per day. Shared bikes and scooters of various providers are increasingly cluttering pavements. With MaaS, users could access vehicles from more providers, reducing the need for dormant reserve. However, shared vehicles and ODT allow private transport at a fingertip, often at only slightly higher cost than the public transport fare. Increasing usage of such modes could establish some kind of a premium public transport, which is nevertheless likely to take more road space and consume more energy than traditional mass rapid transit as it uses smaller vehicles.

Many experts argue that this could be a useful addition to existing public transport and contribute to the overall shift potential. However, public transport providers will need to evaluate every case carefully.

Private companies have launched multimodal transport platforms, which integrate route planning and payment of various transport modes but rarely facilitate tariff integration. For local transport authorities, such routing interfaces add a layer of complexity to the issue of new mobility services. The interface operator has the power to direct its customers to use particular routes or services. While MaaS has the potential to shift trips away from the private car, sustainable mobility might not be the first matters MaaS interface operators consider when choosing which routes and services they suggest to their users. Thus, MaaS might not deliver the expected value to the environment and society, such as lower emissions and reduced congestion and improved accessibility.

Consequently, authorities have expressed interest in playing a role in the governance of MaaS developments in order to capture the value MaaS has to offer to the mobility system, says Suzanne Hoadley of Polis Network, who drafted the discussion paper on MaaS together with the Polis member cities and regions. It suggests that policymakers want to ensure that all services align with the goals they have set out in their Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP). This includes the need to complement public transport and encourage active modes, such as walking and cycling.

The discussion paper emphasises the fact that cities and regions are more likely to yield the full advantages of new mobility when they use the MaaS concept to develop a systems approach to transport planning and service delivery. By leveraging partnerships with transport operators and defining the parameters and objectives of a MaaS system, local governments can create a single, integrated MaaS offer. Ideally, it features a range of transport choices including traditional public transport and new mobility services. This approach relies on a clear vision and strategy and could enable cities and regions to develop and improve their travel demand management, dynamic network management and route optimisation of traditional public transport services, along with offering greater flexibility and travel options to the public. This style of MaaS could see transport authorities and local government organisations delivering an integrated offer themselves or monitoring a MaaS system with some degree of strategic control, ensuring it is accessible, sustainable and meets wider city and regional goals.

Hamburg, Germany, and Greater Manchester, UK, made MaaS an integral part of their transport strategies. Instead of waiting for the private sector to establish an offer, they went ahead and developed a vision of MaaS for their city. Manchester chose to join the MaaS4EU project, which is developing a platform that integrates planning, settlement and ticketing functionalities across a range of mobility services. Hamburg has already launched its Switchh package, a mobility subscription that includes free bike sharing and minute packages for car clubs. It is part of their Strategy for Intelligent Transport Systems which is integrated into their SUMP, the Mobility Programme 2013.

However, the climax for transport authorities and new mobility providers is establishing a competitive and attractive platform for the users. Ideally they are seamlessly connected around Europe, without losing customer contact. While large private MaaS platform providers and data companies will be happy to establish such MaaS platforms, they will also want to serve as the customer interface thereby weakening the identity of the individual mobility service providers, such as the bus company. This is an approach that many shared economy providers, such as Uber, Amazon Marketplace and AirBnB already practice.

If such independent private providers should emerge, authorities and transport operators will most likely lose access to data, as well customers relationships and their brand identity. Instead, authorities may choose to establish a public, open and transparent MaaS platform in which new mobility operators can integrate. Many new mobility providers may welcome such a platform if it is 1) transparent on aims and goals, and 2) would not aim at replacing their identity, while (3) establishing an open data platform instead of closed data collection. A first stage could include trip planning, payment and ticket or keys for a shared vehicle, while fare integration comes as a second step.

However, to become successful this platform would need to be competitive regarding user experience and all relevant services. Transport authorities may contract third parties to design and operate their system but should take care to maintain control of data and interfaces.

Nevertheless, developing a MaaS system will not substitute a comprehensive policy approach towards new mobility services. MaaS provides an excellent opportunity to convince users to shift towards sustainable modes, but authorities need to address the scope of new mobility in specific policies, i.e. defining the role of demand responsive transport as regards public transport.

Download Polis discussion paper on Mobility as a Service here:www.polisnetwork.eu/MaaS


  • Sarasini, S, Sochor, J, and Arby, H. (2017) ‘What characterises a sustainable MaaS business model?’



Michel Arnd

Project Officer

POLIS – European Cities and Regions networking for innovative transport solutions



This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Government 24, which will be published in January, 2018.


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