Multimodality and innovation: the real value of Mobility as a Service

The increasing interest in the principles of Mobility as a Service is a hugely exciting prospect in the seemingly-neverending quest for true integrated transport.  I believe it was a standing joke in Yes, Minister many moons ago indeed!

(On Mobility as a Service, see the white paper I wrote last year: http://www.atkinsglobal.com/en-gb/uk-and-europe/about-us/reports/journeys-of-the-future)

That ambition to provide a truly integrated, seamless method for people to access transport opportunities more easily – and on-demand – is becoming a reality due to the technology now available and the means to bring it to the people.  The mass ownership and use of smartphones, the power of apps, the integration of systems and services – these are all bringing an integrated transport network into play.

But we are reaching a point where it would be worth stepping back and assessing what is happening and why.

The real value of innovation is (very much like transport) as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.  Innovation in transport in the field of Mobility as a Service should be focused on how we generate the best possible outcomes for as many as possible, rather than systems and solutions that we can all admire but ultimately do not change peoples’ lives.  It should be the market pull rather than technology push that drives the demand for the effective delivery of Mobility as a Service.

Those best possible outcomes cover three broad themes: social, environmental and economic.  The very positive transformational power of Mobility as a Service might appear to be seamless journeys, the technology to integrate a variety of opportunities across public transport and into the ride-hailing and ride-sharing domains is indeed powerful and beneficial.  But it can be so much more still.

(NB see http://www.citylab.com/commute/2016/04/uber-lyft-ridesharing-apps-public-transportation/475908/)

Mobility as a Service if planned as a policy should be designed to achieve a much greater range of policy objectives.  For starters, the opportunity to deliver 24/7 transport availability, to fill gaps in the transport network (filling the transport deserts), to provide community transport opportunities and paratransit.  From a transport perspective it can be taken up a notch from integration to accessibility.

Then we go further, using Mobility as a Service as an instrument to enable more efficient use of the transport network in areas like the dreaded school run, in providing subsidised transport for job seekers to get to interviews and into work, to use available capacity better on congested roads through higher occupancy of vehicles, to enable access to employment sites or colleges that are not effectively served by public transport, to reduce social exclusion by enabling people to travel to employment and training opportunities cheaply and easily.

As an economic policy tool, we could increase access to a range of opportunities to boost employment and skills.  As a social tool, we can facilitate access to a wide range of opportunities more cheaply and efficiently by making greater use of the existing supply of transport capacity and connecting the latent demand that currently ends up manifesting as lost opportunity.

And to environmental policy outcomes, you want to see me get mad? When I hear the arguments used against new railways like HS2 based on there being some spare seats on a train! And then I see the majority of cars on roads with 1 or 2 people in and congestion meaning new roads rather than better use of all those spare seats!

Implementing Mobility as a Service and using it to better connect the ever-increasing demand for travel with the available supply is a complicated and sophisticated project indeed.  That is why new infrastructure has been easier than deploying tools to target better, more efficient use of existing infrastructure.

The critical element is the shift to the personal account – this brings together the data generated, the means of paying for it, the ability to locate the individual on their journey, the dynamic pricing and live network information, and a whole system view of mapping current transport network performance and available capacity to the live demand.

Mobility as a Service can shift us to a more personalised approach to providing integrated transport for every user and their particular requirements and preferences.  Every user can have the ability to access all their transport opportunities and compare by cost, comfort, speed, emissions produced and so on.

Excitingly, it can also give transport authorities the opportunity to integrate with wider government areas such as health, economic development, education, skills to truly act as a tool for achieving social, environmental and economic benefits.  That personal account can act as a means for providing subsidised journeys for those who need it and incentives for those who would change behaviours.

So while I absolutely applaud and encourage all the excitement around Mobility as a Service, I really must add a very strong proviso that it could change the world for the better, and that equally applies to policy-makers too – technology and innovation is great, as is transport, but these are tools for much greater ambitions and outcomes.  The aim is not just for a lovely, shiny integrated system – the ultimate aim is to provide a much greater set of positive outcomes that really do transform the world for everyone.

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