Bikes at Canary Wharf; Bikes at Canary Wharf;

The role of rail in an age of Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) promises to tackle some of the challenges of growing urban populations, and at the same time give users greater control of their individual travel needs. Convenience, personalisation, simplified ticketing, and savings in both time and money are among the potential benefits. The introduction of MaaS is also expected to result in an increase in the use of public transport and a decrease in car ownership, with positive impacts on CO2 emissions. It could also see land currently allocated to car parking transformed into green, interactive spaces.

Making MaaS a reality, however, needs public and private stakeholders working together in new ways. Only through coordinated data sharing can user journeys be personalised and optimised across the range of mobility modes. But what will the role of railways be in the journey towards a MaaS future?

The big idea

The main goal with MaaS is to bridge the gap between rail networks and other mobility modes like shared bikes, taxis, e-scooters, transportation network companies (like Uber or Lyft) and Autonomous Vehicles. This would be facilitated through a single digital platform, giving users access to timetables, routes, ticketing and other travel information – such as real time road traffic on their personalised route. As an example, upon arrival at a train station, a pre-paid autonomous taxi would meet the passenger at the station and take them to their final destination via the least congested route. The vision for MaaS is for seamless journeys made via complementary transport modes, managed entirely on one app. To make this a reality, data will be key.

Making it happen

Looking to Japan as an example, a multitude of public and private rail operators each have their own contactless smartcards for ticketing, a useful data source for operators. Beyond payment functionality for rail journeys, these cards are frequently used in restaurants and convenience stores, providing further data that could be used to continuously improve customer experiences.

With MaaS, the scope of big data acquisition could extend beyond the railway to other operator-owned services such as real estate, hotels, buses and taxis around the station, providing many more data sources. But coordinating and managing data – and associated privacy risks – at this scale requires multiple parties coming together.

Ultimately, the success of MaaS relies heavily on the local political context (as discussed in further detail in the recent report The Future of Mobility and MaaS Governance and Orchestration29). The success of Whim in Helsinki or Jelbi in Berlin, for example, can be attributed to the proactive involvement of the local governments.

One of the biggest challenges for achieving MaaS in countries like Japan and the UK, where there are multiple players with different needs, is bringing public and private stakeholders together under agreed governance and commercial frameworks.

Other challenges include ageing populations, many of whom may not own smart devices, and resistance from transport companies that are used to traditional operations. We can, however, learn from success stories like Whim. Built around a MaaS subscription model, it sees users paying a fixed amount every month according to usage frequency, which benefits both users and operators.

The automobile industry is rapidly shifting towards a future known as CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric). In this world the railway industry needs to become more data-driven to remain competitive. MaaS will certainly be a key component of future innovative railways. It’s important that we create the conditions to make it flourish.