The concept of mobility as a service (MaaS) seeks to integrate physical transportation services (such as bike sharing, public transit, car sharing and ride hailing) with a digital platform (or several platforms) that can plan and manage the entire user journey.
MaaS is an area of keen interest and debate for transit and city planners around the world. New MaaS initiatives—especially private-sector offerings—seem to surface daily. Consider new data platforms such as Coord, developed by Sidewalk Labs, and the Transportation Mobility Cloud, developed by Ford and Autonomic—not to mention relatively longer standing physical services such as Zipcar, Dropbike, Lyft and Uber. Yet the impacts of these combined services on our transportation networks and urban systems are not always clear.
MaaS is critical. Planned well, it can offer major benefits for cities, including reducing congestion and improving the economics and flexibility of—and accessibility to—existing transit services. There are also potential environmental and health benefits, particularly if single-occupancy vehicle usage is reduced and active transportation (walking and cycling) are further encouraged.
At the same time, it’s unclear whether MaaS can deliver all that it promises, particularly if its deployment results instead in more vehicles on the road, reduced public-transit ridership or walkability, and/or exclusionary pricing models that leave out major segments of society, among other possible impacts. Although planners are usually well aware of such implications, the approach to date has largely been reactionary, which means that the MaaS ecosystems that have developed do not yet have the guidance they need to satisfy a broad or inclusive agenda for our city systems.
Throughout late 2017 and early 2018, MaRS Data Catalyst and Arup Canada set out to further understand the promise of MaaS digital platforms and the measurable impact of associated physical services. Questions we considered included: Do such platforms increase vehicle use and/or reduce active travel? Are MaaS services replacing trips that would otherwise have been made by public transit?
Our approach was to review the existing literature to determine whether there were trends in the impacts being observed. We also conducted a set of semi-structured interviews with 14 mobility experts to better define the value proposition of MaaS from the perspective of service vendors, consumers, transit agencies and governments generally. A cursory scan of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) context was also undertaken.
Overall, we recommend that governments and planning authorities in the GTHA become much more active in guiding the evolution of their respective MaaS ecosystems. This can be achieved by including planning for more robust prototyping, managing the impacts of operations on congested streets, developing a model operating policy that defines the minimum expectations of value for stakeholders, and facilitating innovation by the private sector in accordance with that policy. Done well, these steps offer the GTHA and Ontario the potential to become leaders in North America for defining partnership frameworks between the public and private sectors that provide mobility services to underserved segments of the community.