Since I first started working in the driverless space, I’ve heard about how driverless vehicles will solve everything…. the transportation silver bullet we’ve all been waiting for! Thankfully, that line of thinking has dissipated and there have since been many studies, papers, and news articles about the potential risks of driverless vehicles: the transition time could have more accidents than less, roadways could see an increase in both single- and zero-occupancy vehicle trips, and public transit could become obsolete (amongst other risks). It’s been great watching industry stakeholders evolve their thinking and now the discussion seems to be focused much more on proactive policies, regulations, and investments that can be made to advance the driverless technology, but mitigate those potential risks.
I now worry we’re seeing the same “silver bullet” thinking with regards to Mobility-as-a-Service (MAAS). MAAS refers to the use of web and app-based tools to provide people with integrated, customized, and on-demand multi-modal transportation information and fare payment options. A simpler way of putting it is that I can plan and pay for my journey via one app – even if it involves taking a driverless shuttle to a train station, taking the train, and then using a bike share bike (so there are a mix of public and private providers). Seemingly, MAAS is integral to a transportation utopia – people have customized, reliable transportation information at their fingertips, which can help them make transportation decisions that don’t necessarily involve a single or zero occupancy vehicle.
Well what happens if the MAAS provider is not a neutral party? What happens if the MAAS provider has something to gain by getting people to use, for example, a ridehailing service instead of public transit? Or what happens if the MAAS provider does not keep up-to-date information regarding the public transit service? Or if the MAAS algorithm doesn’t align with a City’s goals? Clearly, most of these questions hinge on the MAAS business model – who is both creating and paying for the service? To date – there are a range of business models cropping up and the industry is quickly evolving.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of MAAS applications and I do believe they have the potential to solve some of our largest transportation challenges. Similar to driverless vehicles, however, I think it’s important that we consider the pros and the cons….and cities should build proactive implementation strategies around this thinking. Would you agree?