MaaS is transport’s ‘Netflix or Spotify moment’, where data and technology disrupt the previous models.
The Mobility as a Service concept has two strong attractions. One is that all transport methods would be interconnected and working together, in real time, so that a commuter can interchange from one mode to another with the least possible “transfer pain”. The second attraction is the idea of consumers having only one app and one point of payment for all of their travel. You want to go from Frankston to Coburg? The app will plot the best possible journey and charge you one price for the trip.
The major shift in thinking is that a user’s individual journey is the key, not set timetables, driver rosters and other old-world limitations of existing transport options. Cities around the world are embracing the rise of data and the possibilities of cross-referencing complex streams of real-time information to be able to better synchronise and plan journeys from that individual’s point of view. Stuart Outhred, RACV’s senior planner mobility futures, describes MaaS as transport’s “Netflix or Spotify moment”, where data and technology disrupt the previous models.
The sum of all these smarter decisions could be a much more free-flowing transport system.
But can it work? In theory, there is a lot of support for the idea in Australia. A major report compiled by iMove, a co-operative research centre comprising 44 industry, government, and research partners, recently found that MaaS would be embraced by younger Australians, who are smartphone savvy and up for early adoption. Call them the Uber Pool Generation.
The benefits would include socio-demographic and mobility support for all, greater convenience than private vehicles as congestion worsens, and a strong baseline for boosting public transport capabilities. The basic idea is that by giving people better information about their transport choices, people can make smarter decisions. And the sum of all these smarter decisions could be a much more free-flowing transport system.
Sydney recently ran a year-long trial of on-demand mini-buses to drop passengers at transport hubs, by request. The usage numbers may have been tiny, but Transport for NSW deemed the knowledge gained from the exercise made it a success.
In Helsinki, Finland, MaaS has gone much further. Using a service called Whim, top-tier users can tap the app to catch unlimited public transport of every kind, as well as take price-capped, unlimited taxi trips within a five-kilometre radius.
‘An issue we may face in Victoria is the poor frequencies on much of our public transport system.’
They are even able to book rental cars for no extra cost – for a subscription fee of €499 (about $790) per month. It sounds like a heavy financial hit but, as iMove managing director Ian Christensen points out, private car owners don’t often stop to consider just how much that vehicle costs per year to run, along with insurance, depreciation and other expenses (on average $209.50 per week according to RACV's 2018 Driving Your Dollars survey).
The creators of Whim say their research shows the fee is good value compared to the outright leasing of a vehicle or sole use of a taxi: “The aim is to enable mobility access: When you need (it), where you need it.”
But is Melbourne ready for MaaS? Both Stuart and Ian hesitate in their answers. Our city is definitely behind others in preparing for the idea. To work well, MaaS should see users zipping around town between connected modes of transport like Tarzan swinging on vines in those old movies. I don’t remember the movie where he had to hang aimlessly on a particular vine for 25 minutes while he waited for the next vine to appear.