Why Mobility-as-a-Service is the future of transport

Overcoming Covid-19 could kick-start the Mobility-as-a-Service (Maas) revolution by Sandra Witzel, Head of Marketing for SkedGo.

The Covid-19 virus pandemic has hit the world at a scale, pace and intensity like few events in living memory. In the course of merely a few weeks, countries across the world have almost ground to a halt, as governments attempt to fight the outbreak. 

Industries and governments have all been hit in one way or another, mostly for worse not better. One of the most dramatic changes has been in the transport section, with an almost overnight, unprecedented reduction in travel. At present, most countries are in some form of lockdown, with journeys severely restricted and reduced to essential trips only. The demand-side impact on public and private transport organisations has been severe, and no-one knows when restrictions will lift or how quickly people will start travelling en masse once again.

Yet, although there will sadly be casualties amongst the myriad organisations that make up MaaS, as with any crisis there will also be opportunities for those strong and positive enough to emerge from the turmoil. 

John Nuutinen, CEO, SkedGo, says ‘There is little doubt that the financial repercussions of this virus will deal a heavy blow to many businesses and MaaS will not be immune to this threat.  After all, in an emerging market segment, such as MaaS, the thin margins that sustain most businesses will not last long without government support or subsidies. However, for those businesses that emerge, after this threat has subsided, the world of MaaS will have changed…and likely not entirely for the worse.’

In order to thrive – not just survive – in a new world already awakening from the Covid-19 nightmare, it will be important to better understand the opportunities available for MaaS, for it to be a key societal building block in the future. 

A New Normal

Ultimately, for MaaS to succeed in positively transforming the way people travel for the benefit of society, a major transformation of historic attitudes and behaviours was always required. Covid-19 has not changed this. While many gains have already been made – driven by organisations actively pursuing the goals of MaaS – progress has been relatively slow and incremental at a global level. Now, inadvertently, Covid-19 has generated a rapid change in the way people feel, think and act, which could pave the way for bigger changes to come. 

‘Disruption is the mother of transport behaviour change. Not only must we not assume that we will pick up where we left off, but we must also actively work to shape the new behaviours which will form in future’, says Beate Kubitz, Independent Transport Consultant. 

This crisis has not simply meant a shutdown of people travelling entirely. Rather, there are examples of individuals and companies using alternative forms of transport that they would previously not have considered. In the future, a willingness to look at alternatives may well increase. 

Piia Karjalainen, General Secretary of the MaaS Alliance says ‘we have seen some favourable changes, such as an increase in cycling and rapid take-off of teleworking habits that might bring along some long-lasting impact to our mobility behaviour. As a result, during the last few weeks, several studies have indicated improved air quality and less emissions in major metropolitan areas. In addition, people are relying more on local supply chains and communities.’

Freedom of Space

One of the unintended consequences of global lockdowns is the sudden creation of space in what were previously busy, congested, crowded cities. Streets are empty, roads are quiet, pavements are less busy, public transport is almost deserted. Although people will likely return soon to the streets, it’s likely that for a long time overall numbers of people outside will drop. 

This raises the topic of space, and how best it can be used, to higher levels of awareness amongst the public and policy decision-makers. If there is a lot of space now, how best do we fill that space in the future? This could benefit a more diverse range of transport modes, with authorities prioritising more environmentally friendly, safety-conscious or budget-minded modes. Indeed, cities are already offering more space to cycling, as a greener and more individual way of travelling. 

Tight Purse Strings

Companies, governments and individuals will doubtless all be impacted financially through loss of sales income, tax revenue and wages. Bankruptcies and unemployment are already sky-rocketing, with worse yet to come. This will put a great focus on budget management for everyone. No longer will the fastest or easiest journey be the best, for many people it will be the cheapest and MaaS has a vital role in providing optimising expenditure for total journeys. 

As Kubitz points out, ‘There will be direct and indirect consequences of the crisis. At the same time as we are released to travel, the economic impact may well be being felt. People – many of whom have barely used their cars for months – may well look to shed the costs of car ownership as they feel the pinch. It’s hard to predict at present but this may well play out as increasing demand for forms of MaaS, smart transport and new mobility.’

Safety in Numbers

In a future transport landscape, user safety will be of paramount importance, if companies and operators are to convince the public to start travelling again. In rethinking transport systems from a safety perspective, companies and governments have an opportunity to radically redesign how they operate in totality. 

Nuutinen says, ‘The behavioural change will drive the development of new features, functionalities, technologies and business models, as MaaS enablers engineer solutions with a greater emphasis on risk aversion, the ability to mitigate legal liability and focus on business sustainability.’

Sharing is Caring

Already we can see a more organised effort to provide data in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. In the UK, for example, the Department of Transport and ITS UK work together to collect ‘data on traffic flow (count, not speed), traffic movements, parking, cycling and pedestrian movements’ (…) ‘to help inform the Government’s policy response to the COVID-19 outbreak.’

Even before COVID-19, it was clear we needed operators and authorities to share more and better (standardised) data, for the benefit of all mobility stakeholders. Looking at transport through the lens of the pandemic, we can see an increased requirement for data – for example, real-time and occupancy.

Conclusion

While it is clear that transport will see lasting changes as a result of COVID-19 – even after the immediate crisis has passed – as an agile way of thinking, MaaS is in a good position to adapt to this change. A significant component of MaaS is about personalisation, transparency and localisation, and it is these features that will help make MaaS the best tool to support future transport models.

Nuutinen says, ‘Mobility-as-a-Service can provide unique value in a new world of social distancing, increased working from home, changed transport assets and commuters turning to increasingly varied and disparate transportation options.’

Therefore, it is important that we stay focused and positive. This is something we will get through together – it will make us stronger as an industry.

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