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How do we achieve the benefits of MaaS?

One of the most intriguing trends in transport today is Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). Unlike autonomous vehicles or micro-mobility, MaaS is more difficult to define, and more difficult to understand. Part business model, part digital marketplace, MaaS is about customer centric, personalised transport. In MaaS, travellers don’t buy the means of transport – they buy the journey.

MaaS should have benefits for both the transport system and the user. People get personalised journeys which are optimal to them (or at least closer to it). It’s more straightforward, and we hope it’s cheaper. We can also get more out of the system, driving efficiencies across multiple modes, and we get people out of their cars. Many transport policies aimed at reducing car use are sticks – MaaS is a carrot. If your journey can be quicker, easier and cheaper without one, why would you bother owning a car?

We need to achieve a huge amount to make this happen – build digital planners and payment platforms, sort out licensing and regulations, and foster collaboration between public and private providers. However, the true foundation of MaaS will be in developing a truly multimodal transportation network.

‘Multimodal’ means completing a journey by more than one mode. Freight by sea and rail, commuters by park and ride. More often that not, multimodal journeys are done out of necessity rather than desire – they aren’t easy, they aren’t quick, and they aren’t cheap. Bike parking isn’t adequate at stations, and timetables between trains and buses don’t line up. The transport network is rarely planned or operated with multimodal transport in mind – and until we change this, we will never achieve the vision of MaaS.

Planning multimodal systems means simulating multimodal systems. We can’t treat travellers as a single, aggregate block – we need to be able to understand the impact on mode choice of a 10-minute wait for the next bus instead of a 2-minute wait. We need to recognise the enormous range of decisions available to people, and how these play out over the course of a day. Activity-based models are key to this, reflecting people’s daily activity patterns rather than individual journeys. We could even go so far as to say every trip you make in a day is just contributing to one big multimodal journey – travelling away from home and then back again.

There’s one more aspect of multimodal transport, and therefore MaaS, that’s often ignored – the private car. We can aspire for everyone to abandon their own cars completely and move to subscription-based services, but this is a long-term vision. Shifting people from private cars can be incremental. We’ve done this for a long time through park-and-ride schemes and parkway stations. Whilst this doesn’t reduce the overall reliance on private vehicles, it does make public transport services more viable, and therefore cheaper and more comprehensive. So, in order to achieve benefits in the short-term, we need to think about private cars as a real component of multi-modal transport.

This is why we simulate people, and not vehicles. People travelling across multiple modes of travel, and multiple networks, completing multiple trips over the entire day. We call these people agents – each capable of responding to different travel options based on their own characteristics. This allows us to truly get to grips with MaaS and personalised travel, and to design a system that benefits all.

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