MaaS is often hailed as a solution to the sustainability challenge of the transport sector. Digitalisation is believed to make shared mobility and sustainable transport modes able to compete with the private car in terms of accessibility and ease of use. Not least the introduction of autonomous vehicles is framed as contributing to this development. But is this really the case? Is MaaS about to become reality, and will it be sustainable?
MaaS in the Nordics
Although more and more actors are getting into the trade, or simply relabeling their activities to be part of the MaaS hype, MaaS is not really rolling out at the pace many analysts expected a couple of years ago. Actors are still struggling to identify successful business models, and most activities are financed by research projects, venture capital, or by the public sector. Since Maas was introduced as a concept in 2014, especially Sweden and Finland have acted as pioneers. The pilot of UbiGo in Gothenburg (SE) is often referred to as the first in real life conditions, while the launch of Whim in Helsinki drew international recognition. Maas Alliance has mapped the prevalence of MaaS searches on google, and since 2015 Finland stands out among the Nordic countries.
The organizing of MaaS in the Nordic countries includes the public transport sector taking lead in some cases (e.g. the Danish Rejseplanen A/S), private actors driving other services such as Whim in Helsinki (developed by MaasGlobal Oy), EC2B in Sweden (developed by Trivector Traffic AB), and still other services being developed in public-private partnerships. One example is a pilot in Business Region Aarhus, where the city of Aarhus and FDM (The Danish Federation of Motorists), together with other actors are collaborating to set up a MaaS scheme with emphasis on car sharing, which will be targeted both towards the city of Aarhus and the surrounding rural municipalities.
Does MaaS make transport more sustainable?
Many of the services being launched do not necessarily steer towards a sustainable transport patterns and reduced CO2 emissions. This is the case not least for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, who even though they don’t qualify as pure MaaS concepts are often discussed in the same context. According to recent studies, Uber, Lyft, and similar services are adding car kilometers to city and suburban streets. Partly, this is due to drivers spending a lot of time travelling to pick up passengers, but in many cases the car trips are also replacing trips that would otherwise have been made by public transport, walking, or cycling.
What about autonomous vehicles, then? Well, even if we in the future would organise autonomous cars not as privately owned assets but in a big, shared fleet, autonomous cars will still be cannibalising trips from public transport, walking and cycling, contributing to traffic jams and reduced health benefits from active transport modes. If MaaS is to contribute to a sustainable transport system, it needs to be organised with public transport as a basis.
It’s not just about the technology
So far, focus in the MaaS sector is to a large extent on the technical solutions and the difficulties to integrating the business models of different mobility providers into one. Less discussion has focused on user behaviour, which is obviously an important issue if new services are to become used by travellers. Existing services are primarily targeted towards younger urban dwellers with a stable economy, as well as wealthy neighborhoods, and a usual claim is that the typical MaaS user is young and white and generally has a higher level of income and education compared to the rest of the population. However, some studies argue that low income groups travel far more with taxi compared to for example middle income groups. MaaS providers should therefore broaden their perspectives to include other target groups.
Also to a large extent lacking in the debate is the voice of cities, who could potentially use the digitalisation of the transport system proactively to solve problems in the transport system, but do not seem to know where to start. Instead of standing on the side just watching what happens, city authorities should take a more proactive stance and think about how they could shape policy to steer development in a sustainable direction. Through working with e.g. reduced parking, congestion charges and investments in infrastructure for public transport, cycling and walking, cities have the power to tilt the playing field in favour of sustainable MaaS solutions.
Future work in the area – join us
With this article we want to highlight the importance of considering MaaS to increase people’s accessibility without compromising sustainable development. What is clear is that the Nordics are considered as pioneers in the area and that more and more actors are getting into the trade. Yet, few efforts are targeted towards socially excluded areas or rural areas, and the needs and prerequisites of those living there. Furthermore, cities could take a more proactive stance in relation to MaaS.
Want to find out more?
Trivector Traffic has worked together with Climate-KIC and other partners over the last years and developed a considerable expertise in the field of MaaS.
Please contact: Emma Lund, Trivector Traffic AB or Anders Vestergaard Jensen, Climate-KIC
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