Challenges that prevent mobility to become a service

Mobility As A Service is all about transport solutions without personal ownership. This concept sound very promising because we do need a solution for less cars and less emissions in the very near future. You could argue that it’s already happening, but in the MAAS Conference opening keynote, Pier Ebbinge highlighted some challenges we still need to overcome. The idea of not “owning” but “using” instead, is following a very healthy trend that encourages to share in stead of buy. This means less stuff that you don’t need and better usage of the available services around you. Let’s face it you don’t really need to own that car (even if it’s electric), you just need the possibility to commute. You love the fact that you can use it whenever you want, but in reality that’s not really efficient; for you money-wise and more importantly for the planet. The shared economy is gradually becoming more real, but the utopian concept still has some small gaps we have to figure out.

It turns out that MAAS has a lot of potential in and near the cities, but in the more rural areas of the Netherlands it’s quite hard to get people enthusiastic about using the bus for their commute. Especially outside of the rush hour, it seems that a lot of transport companies are very busy transporting only “warm air” from one place to the next and it’s hard to run a profitable business. And that shows the thin line that MAAS is currently balancing on. It always needs to be available and should be profitable at the same time, and that’s hard.

Outside of the cities, most people are brought up with the concept of driving a car. The first thing you did when you turned 18 is getting your drivers licence. That freedom, that availability and that comfort is very difficult to beat when you’re a bus company. Especially when the busstop is not just round the corner and it runs ones every hour; it’s not a great alternative. Nobody wants to cycle for half an hour in poor weather to the nearest busstop just to get on a bus to work. The alternative is to have more buses, more busstops, but they are already empty and therefor not a good investment. The other challenge is comfort. A MAAS-solution should at least match the level of comfort of driving in your own car. The seats should be more comfortable so that is attracts business travellers. The train is already doing a great job, but the bus simply does not offer that level of comfort. You probably can charge your phone on the, but the setting is still far from optimal to uses as a remote workspace. Would it work if they would offer luxury chairs in a bus to get more business people literally on board.

Another element that has big impact on the comfort level is the seamlessness of the transfer. Travellers tend to prefer a longer commute time over a short one if that means they have to switch means of transport. The connection is not that seamless yet and you often find yourself doing polar bear walks on the platform starring the information sign. The idea of comfortable hubs where you can meet, work, rest is very smart, but avoiding them is still a priority. Perhaps we should think of moving hubs that allow trains to run in parallel while enabling travellers to into your their seat while on the move? That might not be a reality, but when making the service feel easy, convenient and seamless, people might use it.

Another hurdle to overcome is to have one form of payment for all of the connecting services. Way back when we still used cash money, we all relied on one “credit system” that allowed us access to the bus or the train. Instead you now need to register before you can uses all the different transport services and they start feeling totally separate from each other, not adding to the MAAS concept anymore. Also, when we introduced memberships to our transport- services things stop being inclusive for a lot of people. Elderly, tourists often don’t understand how it works and at that point the service fails. The OV-chip card is getting there, but in order for it to work all the other initiatives should be dropped.

The achilles heel of MAAS is that it cannot run by itself and be profitable. You need all of the other elements in the chain in order to make it work. This applies to all transports companies, but possibly also for logistic companies. Maybe the goal is not to offer Mobility As A Service, but to think bigger and have Logistics As A Service. Right now we see a traffic jam of food-delivery trucks in our cities because they al have their own separate service, and at the same time we run empty bus services for half of the time. If it is possible for a delivery company to collaborate with a transport company and deliver packages in off peak hours using that same busservice we could increase the efficiency of the services combined. Creative thinking is a must in situations like this; why not let you bus driver deliver our meal boxes when there is time?

In the end we need to listen to what people need for their commute and start from there. Too often a hip new service is launched, but after half a year of struggling, it is shut down; mostly because it didn’t answer a user need. The strategy therefor is to use empathy to learn what users need, connect this with other services to make the onboarding easy and then start making it profitable. When a service offers true relevance, and is a part of the chain, you can turn the idea into profit. That balance is probably different for each initiative, but the starting point should always be the human perspective.