This isn’t another article on how Covid-19 has changed the world. Both you and I need a break from that. However, this country has discovered that it can upturn its traditional way of functioning and make sweeping changes in an extraordinarily short amount of time. It’s this discovery that is paving the way for a revolution.
MaaS — a transport revolution coming to a town near you
MaaS stands for Mobility-as-a-Service (which is not something you should try to say quickly when low on sleep).
Essentially, MaaS is the integration of multiple modes of transport — including public and private, but not personal — which users can access through a single service.
‘Give us an example!’ I hear you cry.
Example: Studious Stu needs to get from his house into the city, to the university library. First, he hops on the train to take him into the city. From the train, he jumps on the bus to get from the station to campus. At the campus bus stop, he picks up an e-bike and zooms along to the library, where he parks it and goes to study. He has just one app on his phone to use all of these transport options.
This is MaaS.
Why is MaaS worth paying attention to?
I work from home near the centre of a small city, Exeter. My partner has a car and needs one for a variety of reasons. I, however, don’t. I can walk and cycle everywhere I need to during the working week. But what happens in the few instances that I need to get somewhere only accessible by car?
In Exeter, we have a growing MaaS company called Co-Cars. This is a car club, where a large variety of cars are parked in proprietary spaces across the city for use by members.
Mostly electric and hybrid cars, you simply log into your account on the app and book the car you want for the amount of time you need it. An hour? Sure, that’ll cost you less than a fiver. All day? Still cheaper than most traditional car rental companies and no bureaucracy or handover required. You just unlock the car with your membership card.
If the car you want is out of walking distance (or you want to save the sweat), you can walk to your nearest Co-Bikes rack, pick up an e-bike and pedal it across the city to the car you’ve booked. So far, they don’t operate from the same app (so aren’t technically Maas), but it’s a start and a growing revolution that can be witnessed across Exeter every day.
Access to Co-Cars has allowed me to stay easily car-free. How many two-car households see at least one of those cars sat on the drive most days?
So, why does this make MaaS worth paying attention to?
- Can reduce the number of personally-owned vehicles on the road — each Co-Cars vehicle removes 6–10 cars from the road.
- Can save users time through linking services and money while reducing ownership and transport costs.
- Can prioritise electric and hybrid vehicles, reducing transport-related emissions and protecting the environment.
- Can improve the health of users by encouraging more time spent outside (e.g. on e-scooters) and physical exercise through e-bike use.
- Can simplify payments by using subscription models.
- Can free-up previously congested spaces, particularly in built-up areas.
- Can create and link more flexible transport options, from scooters and bikes to trains, trams and car-sharing.
Embracing the new
I don’t know what the situation is like near you, but where I live, the traffic is awful. And I’m writing this during the third national lockdown in the UK; the traffic is still awful.
One of the reasons for this is that I live on the edge of a city that was built by the Romans, over 2,000 years ago. The city centre is still ringed by ancient walls and centuries-old buildings are everywhere you look. Not to mention the city is in a valley, hemmed in by water and hills.
In short, the city has grown without thinking too much about commuter traffic. There are only two ways into the city and both head through residential areas.
Now, the global pandemic may well have a profound, long-term affect on how and where people work from. Perhaps less people will need to commute into the city centre in the future. But with business parks already packed on the outskirts of the city, much of the traffic heading in will be for shopping and living; the city centre has large residential areas.
At the moment, driving seems to be the main way people enter the city, despite it having a reasonable inner-city railway system and three park and ride car parks. As I mentioned, we also have an e-bike and car rental network.
At the moment, using public transport doesn’t just feel icky, it’s activity not recommended. So is this the time to be talking about MaaS at all?
I think so.
In fact, I think that now is exactly the right time to be talking about MaaS. We have the opportunity to reassess the way our transport systems work and make it better for our communities and our budgets.
Congestion is a hideous burden upon every city and the pollution it produces has serious consequences for the health of the residents and the environment. When MaaS networks become the norm, driving into the city will simply no longer be the easiest solution.
The pandemic has shown us that the way we were working and living before wasn’t necessarily the best way. Thousands of people have come to love remote working and relish the idea of either continuing remotely or at least reducing their in-office hours.
This past year reveals just how adaptable we are and has brought digital networks and systems into our lives that may’ve taken years of persuasion otherwise. When we start thinking about the benefits of MaaS, it’s clear that the technology isn’t beyond us and the disruption isn’t something we’ll shy away from.
Expanding MaaS infinitely
Still in its infancy, the possibilities to MaaS are vast. In a world where we already do our banking, shopping and communicating through mobile phone apps, imagine what MaaS can do for you?
How does door-to-door trip planning sound — with a choice of transport options, pricing and travel times? What about seeing, in real-time, which electric charging points are free for your electric club car? Want to see on a map where your bus is so you know if you have time to nip to the loo? Fancy engaging in active travel to get fitter, stronger and happier?
Some of these facilities already exist; imagine if they were all combined.
MaaS, fundamentally, is about designing transportation options around users, not forcing users to go out of their way to access transport options. Only by making transport as accessible, affordable and convenient as possible, will we break free from the polluting tradition of personally-owned vehicles.
We should all care about MaaS because, as it grows, it will improve our air quality, our finances, our health and our community spaces. And we all want those things to improve, right?
Kitiara is a freelance content writer, author and journalist based in the UK. She writes about travel, the great outdoors and tech that enables us to enjoy and protect those things more easily.
Find her at kitiarapascoe.com