Open platforms to open up the potential of MaaS
If developed properly, Mobility as a Service can offer the answer to the mobility problems of tomorrow, from air pollution to traffic congestion. To deploy its full potential, the parameters should be set right from the beginning. One of those parameters is the creation of closed versus open ecosystems.
In its analyses, MaaS Alliance, the public-private partnership that aims to deploy MaaS at its full potential, recommends the usage of open platforms. This can prevent the creation of monopolies or unfair competition in which some mobility providers or services are favoured above others, regardless of the best mobility offers for the client. A decent MaaS system should be user-centric, offering the best possible routing for the passenger, not for the mobility providers.
Sampo Hietanen, CEO of MaaS Global, the startup behind urban mobility app Whim, has the same view as the use of an open ecosystem would allow all mobility operators or transportation service operators to access all interfaces. This optimises the use of the available infrastructure in a given mobility ecosystem. This is the ultimate aim of MaaS.
Closed platforms, on the other hand, can lead to monopolies, putting the companies interests above the riders’ interests. This kind of platforms, however, is used by particular companies as Uber and Lyft who are moving into the MaaS market by expanding their ride hailing services with other mobility services.
Bringing in the own fleet
Besides operating on a closed platform, there is another remarkable difference. Rather than cooperating with various mobility service providers, they acquire other mobility service providers and enlist them in their system. Such as the acquisition of Jump bike by Uber.
The problem is not only related to competition, but also to balancing offer and demand. If too many companies bring in their own fleets of various mobility service, from scooters to cars, they can add to traffic congestion.
Balancing demand and offer
Looking for the right balance between mobility offer and mobility demand is already a huge challenge in various cities, as has been seen in the scooter war in the Bay Area (San Francisco), or in the pile of wasted bikes in Asia. Let alone the studies suggesting that ridehailing adds to traffic congestion by pulling people out of public transit.
However, this last issue can be solved partly if the ridehailing and other additional mobility services are used in an overall MaaS system in which they provide the first and last mile, rather than the core miles.
So, who is in charge?
To prevent this situation, some cities created their own transport monopoly, rather than letting other companies step in. This is not an optimal solution either, since the mobility of the future will cross the city borders – in which companies as Uber and Lyft for instance do have a lot of experience and knowledge – and this surpasses the cities’ economic and often infrastructural capabilities.
Preferably, cities should provide the vision and the climate in which a decent MaaS system can develop at its fullest potential. One of them is by using open platforms and allowing all kinds of mobility service providers to be part of the offer. Another is setting the right legislation in which various mobility services have the possibility to develop at their full potential with respecting the user’s and city’s needs in terms of mobility, congestion and air pollution.
Vancouver, for instance, is one of the few cities where ridehailing is prohibited and where carsharing flourishes. Thanks to the mobility vision of the city, the modal shift is happening, and people are giving up private car ownership. The same applies to Rotterdam, where people are rewarded for cycling to work rather than driving.
In case of the latter, when it comes to European cities, there could be an additional advantage: the use of European legislation. As the EU has done for pan-European telecom agreements on roaming tariffs inside the EU, it could be able to set the basic legislative framework for an pan-European – open - MaaS ecosystem as well.