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The Maze of MaaS: What It Takes to Launch a Multimodal Urban Transportation Platform

In 1807, a group of enterprising Welsh folks paid the British Parliament £20 for the right to run the world’s first fee-based horse-drawn public tram line — the Swansea and Mumbles Railway.

In the 2020s, a twenty won’t be enough to fund a new route. But it can take you on a several-hour e-scooter ride, to a nice coastal town by commuter train, or home in a cab after a long night around town.

We have no lack of digital mobility services. Still, our daily journeys can sometimes feel as cumbersome as traveling by horse-drawn carriage.

Suppose you miss an update about construction on your regular line. Then you struggle to buy the correct fare for the replacement bus. It leaves without you. Uber asks for a surcharge because they can. Then you nearly get run over by a whizzing e-scooter as you decide to walk to your destination.

A day like that makes anyone wonder: Where is all the glorified MaaS (mobility as a service) technology? And why is no one getting a finer grip on multimodal urban transportation planning? Perhaps I should get into this line of business?

The good news is that the role of MaaS orchestrator is vacant in most markets. The bad news is that if you decide to fill it, you’ll be in for a bumpy ride.

What is MaaS and what is it not?

MaaS stands for mobility as a service — a multimodal transportation solution offering on-demand access to different transportation services via a single interface.

Essentially, a MaaS operator is an aggregator offering à la carte or packaged access to different transportation options: public transportation, ridesharing, bikesharing, carsharing, or any combination of these to navigate the urban jungle.

A customer-delighting urban mobility as a service app also takes away the guessing game of figuring out the correct fare or purchasing multiple passes (which is especially frustrating for visitors), handles payments, and builds effective navigation in tune with a city’s transportation planning priorities.

In short, most MaaS apps include:

  • A navigation planning module powered by location-based services
  • A set of APIs connecting the app with other transportation services
  • A traveler information system for journey updates
  • Fare management and ticketing functionality
  • Payment processing functionality

Sounds simple. And in theory, it is. But in practice, performing multimodal transportation planning is harder than solving a one-color puzzle.

First, transportation ecosystems have many players — government agencies, public transportation authorities, carsharing companies, ride-hailers, micro-mobility providers, etc. Some days they are a source of joy. Other days they are the reason for your grievances.

For long enough, transportation market players have pursued the same and competing priorities. Private and public transportation providers operate in silos. Government agencies lack the vision and technological maturity to evolve at the same pace as private players.

Due to that, we now have many examples of not-so-great mobility as a service experiences:

  • Endless tensions between private companies (ride-hailing services, on-demand rental services, asset sharing companies) and city authorities on road priority, parking availability, dedicated lanes, etc. For instance, San Franscisco authorities are suing the Turo carsharing startup for not having airport parking permits.
  • Haphazard go-to-market approaches and cut-throat competition among new mobility players to secure market share faster. For example, Bolt is aggressively competing on pricing for e-scooter sharing in Germany in hopes to get more users into their transportation platform, which also offers ridehailing, e-bikes, and food delivery services.
  • Domination of private transportation companies in cities with poor public transport infrastructure. This leads to heavier road traffic and increased air pollution. As UC Berkeley research suggests, ride-hailing displaces transit ridership and increases vehicle miles traveled by cars. According to the study, if affordable hailing options were not available, passengers would use alternative public transport.

Most markets lack a MaaS orchestrator/integrator. But it can be a very lucrative position to assume


Read the full article here.

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