Is Mobility-as-a-Service (MAAS) the Next Transportation Silver Bullet?

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?

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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3 Responses to Is Mobility-as-a-Service (MAAS) the Next Transportation Silver Bullet?

  1. Paul Minett says:

    Well said, Lauren. There seems to be lemming-like belief in anything data-driven to solve every problem. What people seem to forget is that many aspects of these new services already exist, and with nothing intrinsic changing, it is difficult to see the argument ‘why’ people are going to prefer to use these than their single occupant car. There seems to be a big mental block around this in our industry.

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  2. Bill Dermody says:

    I agree. I would add as context that I think MAAS being prevalent in our driverless vehicle future is both: (a) not assured, and (b) very important to long-term sustainable urban form.

    I offer no answers to your other questions, but it spurs others. How do state and local governments regulate MAAS business models in a way that is fair and synergistic with public transit? Is there any way to encourage multiple vehicle occupants via MAAS regulation and incentives? The answers might be extra-regulatory, but I’m not sure, and now’s the time the structure of the future is being formed.

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  3. Blair Schlecter says:

    I agree with you and the comment above by Paul. There seems to be an over reliance on the technology to do the job of transforming transportation. Automation of vehicles will not be enough and we have to do the hard work as you mention to get the best results.

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