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Mobility as a Service Isn’t a Tech Problem. It’s a Business Problem.

Jeff Moore, VP, Industry Solutions and Alliances, Trapeze Group

The changing definition of mobility is circling the public transit industry. No longer are modes of transit mutually exclusive. Public transit is only one of the many options in the overall mobility landscape and one component of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) offerings.

It’s likely that MaaS (or something like it) is going to become the norm. How the specifics look is hard to predict, though we do have some ideas. (One person may use a combination of bike share, walking, and public transit to get to the public pool. Another may use their car, a bus, and an autonomous vehicle to get to work. Someone else may walk, bike, and use a taxi to meet their parents for lunch.) Individual’s uses will be different but time, technology, and regulations will determine how MaaS will shape up.

A big chunk of the MaaS conversation is structured around how current technologies can make this work. The big secret is that MaaS is largely not a technology problem. The core technology exists today. You can look to Europe to see some of these ideas in practice or to the many technology pilots here in North America. No, the issue with MaaS right now is on the policy and operations side of things.

One challenge of connecting all these modes and services is fare management. Today, with the plethora of subscription services, it makes sense that individuals would be interested in paying for mobility in this way. However, how do these funds get divvied up when you start involving public transit, bike share, TNCs, taxis, and more? Will the private mobility providers be willing to accept a share of a subscription fee?

Another question that is already on the minds of planners is land-use and infrastructure. Land is a finite resource. And you see this manifested with the advent of dedicated taxi or TNC lanes outside airports or train stations. How should private mobility providers be using this fixed public resource? Should there be preferences, tolls, or other incentives/disincentives in place for different mobility types? How should crowded curb space be managed?

If these issues are preventing MaaS from becoming a reality, it is likely that some regulations or oversight will be required to deal with them. But again, who gets to set these rules? Transit agencies? Governmental agencies? Someone or something else?

We are seeing that some agencies are looking to become the mobility managers for their region. You have been getting people where they need to go, across multiple modes, for decades. It makes sense that your peers, like TransLink, Dayton RTA, or LA Metro, are thinking about how they can broaden their service offering to address new mobility. By focusing on your strengths and supplementing service in other ways using the MaaS model, you can make it simpler for people to move by connecting them to the options that make the most sense for them. However, to become mobility managers for the future, the larger questions (traffic management, curb space, incentives, revenue sharing, etc.) need to be addressed. 

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