We haven't exactly been overwhelmed with cheerful news emerging from the transport industry. True, there is hope that the RMT industrial action will soon be called off, but at the same time, the HS2 section from Birmingham to Crewe is being mothballed and rural bus services in many parts of the country are near non-existent.
Even though public transport might not be a priority for the government (despite it's undisputed role in underpinning economic growth and prosperity), the critical need remains to get more people – new customers – using shared and public transport. The benefits are crystal clear – fewer private single occupancy cars on the road, reduced emissions, greater access to employment and education – all of which must be important to regional authorities. And making public transport and shared mobility as attractive as possible is an essential ingredient – to do that, it has to be truly integrated and seamless. Which is exactly the premise of mobility as a service - or MaaS. Give customers the ability to understand all their mobility options, tailored to their personal needs and make those services easy to access and to pay for in a single transaction.
Sounds so straightforward and logical, put like that. And we've been talking about it for ten years or more. So why are there only a handful of MaaS schemes out there? And why have they often struggled to be successful? One reason is because every region and solution is different – economic circumstances, geography, social fabric, mix of transport options, funding and even ambition. They will all be different in virtually every case, so there can be no 'one size fits all' solution.
Another reason – and a commonly heard objection whenever the topic is discussed in conferences – is that the business case is weak or obscure. And that objection is true – if all that is being achieved is an overlay of a journey planning and ticket selling, then the economics don't add up. The key factor has to be to make integrated mobility so attractive that people begin using it who would never have done so before. That way a critical mass of paying customers is reached, and participation for both operators and mobility service providers becomes feasible, requiring less of a leap of faith.
So, despite the fact that every region and potential solution is individual and different, there must be some basic principles that will contribute to a solid business case. And it certainly seems that a lot of authorities and solution providers are waiting to see who can crack the problem first.
Surely there has to be a better way? What is stopping us from working together as an industry (regional authorities, solution providers, operating groups and national government) to develop the pre-requisites of the successful business case for MaaS? Let's face it, when the ideal business case does actually surface, it will immediately be emulated by others anyway. By working together now, we can establish what works and that may well have the effect of encouraging regional and urban authorities to commission their own MaaS schemes, when they might otherwise have hesitated or decided against. Hence the market would expand for everyone.
It may well be that defining the ideal business case highlights legislation or regulation (be it taxation, transport policy, franchising or concession conditions) that is preventing more widespread adoption of MaaS – by working together, we can focus on those problems, lobby for policy or rule changes and be able to demonstrate the benefits that would accrue from those changes.
It's got to be worth considering, hasn't it?