Authorities look to MaaS for new solutions and cost savings
First publishedin ITS International
Anne Berner opening ITS International's MaaS Market conference.
Governments, local authorities, modelling specialists and consultants all expressed high hopes for Mobility as a Service at the recent ITS International MaaS Market conference 2017.
Geoff Hadwick and Colin Sowman listened in.
The structure of society and the way in which our cities work will be completely transformed by Mobility as a Service (MaaS), Finland’s minister of transport and communications Anne Berner, told ITS International’s recent MaaS Market conference 2017 in London.
In her keynote address, Berner told a packed audience of more than 200 ITS professionals that MaaS has the potential to help governments around the world meet their big city targets such as the rate of employment, the environment, the efficient use of public assets and the provision of a high-functioning urban transport system.
“For us, MaaS is not only a concept but a reform of the structure of our society and providing additional tools to meet all the targets we have as a government,” she told delegates. And, she said, MaaS comes “with a responsibility and a trust that the government has ensured [individuals] can go from place A to place B, that there is the infrastructure and services provided and that the assets of government are used in an optimised way.”
Berner also identified some of the problems: “Our citizens, who are also our consumers, are pushing us towards change and often it is industry that takes more pushing along. We speak about deregulation but who resists deregulation and the opening up of markets? It is the sectors providing the services, not the consumer or citizens. They can only benefit from new competition, better services and new applications.”
Another national government level speaker was the UK DoT’s Lucy Yu who described MaaS as ‘an idea whose time has come” and the traditional view of public transport as: “taking you somewhere you don’t want to go from somewhere you didn’t want to start.”
Although there are many interpretations of MaaS, Yu identified common principles as “usership above ownership, a degree of modal agnosticism and a blending of public and private transport with the idea that the overall journey is more important than the mode used.” All of which comes with seamless integrated payment, she added.
The UK Dot’s Traveller Needs study showed that 57% of travellers always look to optimise their journeys, 72% have smartphones and more than half of smartphone users consider the device essential to their travel experience. Particularly pertinent for MaaS was that almost 60% of respondents would share their personal data to get a better service and 75% of journeys are identified by ‘pain-points’.
Yu highlighted the potential for shared autonomous vehicles to act as feeders for public transport or as on-demand mini buses but said that each modal interchange increases the number of pain-points experienced. She also said the UK’s existing legislation poses difficulties and gave examples of unlocking spare capacity in rural areas using digital brokerage, and regulatory overlap posing challenges to on-demand transport.
The right combination of shared transport could reduce congestion and emissions, PTV's Koenraad Verduyn told the conference.
On a more positive note, she indicated how useful the data available from MaaS providers would be in identifying new transport services and city planning.
Giving that ‘city’ view in a keynote address on the second day of the conference was Transport for London’s (TfL) Michael Hurwitz who said everybody agrees with the concept of MaaS - a better traveller experience and more efficient ways of moving around a city - but very few understand the substantial challenges. London has a population of 8.8 million and there are around 31 million trips within the capital every day (20 million paying by smartcard). “By 2030 London’s population will grow by a further 1.2 million people – growth equivalent to England’s second biggest city.”
Healthy streets, a mayoral priority, had to be delivered despite a freeze on fares and reduced funding from central government, leading Hurwitz to say: “MaaS has never been more required than it is now.”
He then posed three questions, asking first: “Where are you on the spectrum of MaaS – complete free market or complete control?” He cited the emergence of open data with 11,000 app developers registered to use TfL’s 71 APIs and more than 700 apps already developed. He put the cost of opening up the bus data at £800,000 while the annual Value of Time benefit achieved by the travellers is estimated at £80 million.
His second question was the balance between public and private sector. He was in no doubt that the best capabilities lie with the latter but said: “if everything is left to the private sector then passengers and companies will make individual rational choices which may not make sense taking the city into account overall.”
As an example he said that in London private cars take 19% of road space and provide 11% of the passenger miles whereas buses occupy 11% of the streetscape and provide 57% of the passenger mile. “So what person, entity, regulations or pricing is in place to ensure that when new transport options evolve they are consistent with a city’s goals?”
He also questioned if demand-responsive transport would be good for the city and cited several examples including autonomous vehicles: “If they evolve to [counter] private low-occupancy car commuting that’s good but if they perpetuate congestion that’s bad.
“So the question is, how far do we as the public sector intervene? In my opinion, we have to tread a very fine line between making sure the system works effectively while still allowing innovation to flourish.”
And his third and final question was, how do we get there? “We risk looking at MaaS but not knowing how we are going to get there. You have to start from where you are and all start from different places but you also need to keep the city running in the meantime.”
In TfL’s case it owns and manages only 5% of London’s roads but controls all 6,300 signalised junctions – 4,000 of which are connected to its control centre. It runs the underground and the bus network, it licences taxis and private hire vehicles and it sets the congestion charge needed to enact environmental policy. His solution is to identify “ways to take things forward that also help how, that start to build the operational confidence that this is worth investing in and start to build the customer confidence in a better future. When you have those key points of evidence, then you begin to have the power and influence that can start to run the governance – and without the governance, the structure, the data agreements and the right mix of policy and regulation, the system will not get any further.”
Richard Harris argued that authorities need to be involved with MaaS as they have their hands on 'the control levers'
During questions he further refined this vision, identifying a three-way trade-off between the outcome for the traveller, the city outcome (in terms of operational efficiency/congestion, environment…) and commercial viability. He said the actions taken must not jettison any of those three elements and include easy wins such as integrated ticketing and intermodal route planning.
PTV’s Koenraad Verduyn grabbed the audience’s attention by saying: “There is very little distinction between moving people and goods – especially in that first/last mile,” and combining the two “can be very advantageous in business and organisational terms.”
Somewhat more concerning to the audience was his assertion that the tools traffic planners have used for many years “don’t work anymore” because they cannot predict the impact of new mobility services. “There is not a single traffic planner that is confident enough to give a prognosis for 2030 including the effects of the large scale adoption of MaaS,” he said.
He said it was not simply a case of people switching modes, “having more accessibility generates additional trips. Elderly or disabled people who are unable to drive have access to MaaS – that influences how much they travel, where they live, where they shop and where they send their kids to school.”
He berated traffic planners who dismiss these new services as something that is ‘not going to happen’. “If they don’t consider scenarios in which a large proportion of the travelling public move from car ownership to shared services, then they haven’t done their job,” Verduyn said. He gave an example of changes flowing from these new services as New Jersey’s decision not to build a new car park but to provide free Uber rides to those coming into the city centre.
To provide such analysis PTV has created a new suite of software to model, simulate, predict and operate MaaS services.
Verduyn also cited the ITF’s Lisbon study which modelled replacing all traffic in Lisbon with autonomous taxi-bots and public transport over a 24 hour period. It found the same number of rides could be provided with only 10% of the vehicles, or 35% during the peak period. Savings on parking spaces were around 80% and kerb-to-kerb street space increased by 20% due to the absence of parked cars. However, if these vehicles were not shared, the study found that the vehicle miles travelled would increase by between 30% and 90%, resulting in gridlock.
By adding high-frequency taxi buses carrying eight to 16 people between parts of the city with a 1/2hr advanced booking, a shared autonomous vehicle pick up within 300m and a 10 minute boarding time tolerance, showed that the trips could be achieved with only 5% of the vehicles. Moreover, it would see a 22% reduction in vehicle miles travelled and 27% decrease in CO2 emissions, said Verduyn.
He concluded by saying MaaS was the saviour of inner city traffic and that “without sharing, autonomous vehicles will be the death of inner city traffic.”
MaaS Alliance member Richard Harris addressed the conference on how local authorities should participate in MaaS saying: “Authorities have their hands on the control levers that can make a difference.” He argued that authorities need to be involved but currently they aren’t, adding that the quality of information provided by many local authorities is so poor that commercial companies are ignoring it and doing their own data-gathering.
He went further saying that with any ITS project or demonstration, the hardest thing to solve is the administrative and organisational aspects. “Forget the technology, that’s routine, it is people defending budgets and areas of responsibility and resistance to working in a different way – because ITS always makes you work in a different way.”
His solution is not only to analyse control room data to help manage the situation but also to enable people to make better decisions on how they travel – and to make it available as open data.
“I’ve been telling authorities for 30 years they should invest in ITS but there comes a point where you say ‘stop, don’t build it yourself, make the data available and somebody else will provide those services for you’.”
He highlighted five important elements for a successful MaaS deployment: making a viable business case, fulfilling policy objectives, meeting user needs, implementing KPIs to measure performance and undertaking good governance. “MaaS can be run by anybody, it doesn’t need to be the authority but the authority must be involved because they have their hands on the ‘levers’.”
As an example, he cited Montréal which has 19 operators running 3,000 buses, five train lines and four metro lines but with a common back office that keeps their individual datasets separate and secure. “They save money and all the data collected in that back office is in the same format – making analysis easy.”
He also identified the perennial problem of informing the public about new services and highlighted the Denver model which sets up a mobility market place that all transport operators can join (while again keeping all their sensitive data separate). “This gives companies access to potential customers, so if they launch a new service it will start to appear on users’ searches without the need for a massive publicity campaign.” It treats all transport providers equally while maintaining data privacy and providing high-level analytics.
Jack Opiola believes transport solutions must be considered in zones according to the distance from the city centre
Jack Opiola of D’Artagnan Consulting and an advisory board member for A-to-Be, ended the conference saying that the underlying problem with congestion and overcrowding is that: “People do not live where they work. Some live outside the city and travel in while others live in the city and travel out and this cross current causes enormous congestion.”
He also showed that city dwellers drive as many miles as those in rural communities (but with more trips) and observed that a lot of potential MaaS operations concentrate on the city centre. “Travel options start to diminish in the suburbs and there are even fewer in rural areas.”
He said that it is going to be difficult for MaaS to win ‘hearts and minds’ and he highlighted modal transfers and real-time updates as key deciders in whether travellers use MaaS or take their car. “Real-time information is far more useful than a trip schedule,” he said and gave the following example: “It is not very useful if I show up for my train only to find out it is 30 minutes late or that I am expected to go outside to catch my bus and that is also running late.
“Most successful business innovations provide a lower cost option to the individual and we believe [MaaS] providers will be from the industry because of their flexibility in contracting and in establishing relationships and deals.”
While authorities may not be directly involved he said they could still benefit: “If we can decrease the subsidises to public transport, making transportation a self-standing utility, then that money can be better used in other areas such as health, education and welfare.”
He echoed Harris’s view that transport operators can still compete while sharing information and gave the example of his trip to the conference; looking at an aggregator website to compare flight prices and the site also offered him hotel rooms and a discount on tickets for the Heathrow Express train from the airport.
“They’ve combined a lot of mobility aspects into a single service,” he said, adding: “Logistics works the same way – especially with the back office systems and block chains.”
Block chains divide complex transactions into component parts – for instance when goods are delivered to the dock, reach the receiving port or are delivered to their final destination. With MaaS these separations can be at the change of mode or when dropping off a car share. “This is one, fully reconcilable transaction and stops all the intermediate reconciliations we have today which only add cost and overhead.”
Opiola singled out Singapore as possibly the closest to a functioning MaaS system and where there is a road charging system (which is about to move to distance-based) that makes the real cost of a trip more evident to drivers.
He said the ‘elephant in the room’ is that “people only recognise the cost that has come out of their pocket - a toll or parking fee, and that’s how they view the cost of the trip because they may only fuel their car every two weeks and not associate the cost with an individual trip.”
He believes that to make MaaS work, decision makers and society will have to have a long, hard look at introducing road user charging in order that the cost of a trip is evident to drivers. “Then there is something that will push them out of their car. Without that I don’t know if it will happen… because in the end it all comes down to cost and if they think the car trip is less expensive, then they will make it.”
He also talked about Brisa’s (now A-to-Be) micro payment system in Portugal which uses in-car transponders to pay for tolls, parking, access and some fast-food outlets with a single bill. That system can now be mirrored on the user’s mobile phone to allow use when they are away from the car. “They have perfected the ability to do low-cost transactions as an intermediary… and that is something we may have to do as we transition to MaaS and to look for early incremental wins rather than doing everything in one go.”
He didn’t underestimate the challenge of equalling the convenience of the car, saying that in many cases the alternative multi-modal journey took longer and ‘value of time’ must be considered when contemplating introducing MaaS services. And even where MaaS is available, he expects many people will keep their car as a ‘back-up’.
However, he said, the ‘prize’ for authorities was very large, agreeing with New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance, who is quoted as saying: “On-demand services, and big data-powered private enterprises would mean the abolition of timetabled services and the end of government-supplied vehicles within the next 10-15 years.”
“I think this is something that is going to happen” Opiola concluded, adding: “In which case governments have to think ‘is that role now obsolete or is it now the manager of that utility?”
Delegates making their way home after the conference had plenty to think about – regardless of which mode of travel they used.