Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and Mobility on Demand (MOD) via Blockchain

In cities across the globe there has been an explosion of new, innovative mobility services seeking to offer residents and visitors more options to complete their daily travel needs. It is an exciting time for urbanists, mobility enthusiasts, urbanpreneurs and the mobility user. In Barcelona alone there are at least 50 shared mobility operators that are offering a range of services from carsharing and carpooling to scooter sharing and even boat sharing. In general this is good news for everyone, but of course there are drawbacks for the ecosystem of mobility service providers and users.

One such challenge is how can we ensure that mobility startups with innovative and useful solutions are discovered by users amongst the millions (and growing) apps in their app stores? How can users simplify their journey planning to know what is their best route and combination of mobility services to get from A to B? Is it really the best we can do to have dozens of public and private mobility operators building their own identity, payment and location-based tech all with their own apps and each one trying to build their own network effect?

In recent years blockchain technology has shown the promise to decentralize and democratize seemingly every industry, and also support a more inclusive economy while improving quality of life. Perhaps blockchain advocates are promising too much and creating hype around the technology and associated cryptocurrencies.

But in some cases, I do believe the potential for such a dramatic impact is legitimate. For example, at IoMob we are working on building the Internet of Mobility via blockchain to help decentralize and democratize urban mobility and to address the challenges of the increasingly crowded mobility marketplace.

Two parallel approaches are emerging on either side of the Atlantic as models to improve intermodal access to public and private mobility services. Here in Europe, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is a concept that is gaining real steam in several cities across the continent. The concept behind the latest versions of MaaS is to allow mobility users to sign up for monthly subscriptions to mobility services in one package. This can include public transit, taxis and various forms of shared mobility. In the best designed MaaS models, users can arrange intermodal journeys (for example book a bike share to a public transit stop and then hop in a carshare to go to the beach) all in a single app. At IoMob we have thought a lot about how our blockchain tech can enable MaaS and beyond by also allowing, for example, users to have unlimited access to incorporate any validated (legal) mobility service into a customized MaaS that is perfectly built for their particular mobility needs. Payments between providers and other ecosystem players will be handled via smart contracts while users can continue to pay in fiat or crypto if they prefer.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in the US, we have discovered that Mobility on Demand (MOD) is gaining more traction than MaaS. One of our advisors, Susan Shaheen (a UC Berkeley Professor and one of the world’s leading experts in shared mobility) has advocated for IoMob to also embrace MOD models into our strategic roadmap.

In a report for the US Department of Transportation in which Shaheen was lead author, MoD was defined as:

an innovative transportation concept where consumers can access mobility, goods, and services on demand by dispatching or using shared mobility, courier services, UAVs, and public transportation solutions. Passenger modes facilitated through MOD providers can include shared modes, public transportation, and other emerging transportation solutions (e.g., aerial taxis). Goods delivery facility through MOD can include app-based and aerial delivery services (e.g., drones).

The report goes on to describe the difference between MaaS and MOD

MaaS differs considerably from existing definitions of MOD in that MaaS emphasizes mobility aggregation, smartphone and app-based subscription access, and multimodal integration (infrastructure, information, and fare integration). MOD encompasses a strong emphasis on both personal travel and goods delivery as it relates to commodified transportation services, as well as system management (i.e., supply and demand).

In either system, the ability to handle routing, booking and payment across multiple public and private mobility and transportation providers in one app is considered the holy grail. The main differences between MaaS and MOD from our perspective are that:

  1. MaaS assumes users desire to have a monthly budget for their mobility needs (somewhat as a replacement to the old way of car ownership which contains loan or lease payment, insurance and maintenance), whereas in MOD it is not assumed that the user will pay a fixed monthly service fee for specific mobility services.
  2. MaaS is primarily concerned with personal mobility whereas MOD combines personal mobility with the movement of goods recognizing that increasingly these things are overlapped (for example, food delivery instead of going to get food, or ordering food and goods online with Amazon Prime instead of using mobility services to go to the store via different mobility services or your own car.

I am not here to advocate whether the European orientation towards MaaS or the US version of MOD is better. This is probably a regional or even a city-level distinction. In fact, I can see no reason why both MaaS and MOD could not co-exist in the same city and perhaps share a common architecture and user base.

What I am certain of is that we will continue to see innovation in urban mobility and transport services, that the best solutions will aggregate network effects and enable single app routing, booking and payment, and that blockchain will be a major enabler of MaaS and MOD models, improving transparency, market access and ultimately quality of life in cities.

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