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Mobility as a Service : the battle of data

The concept of Mobility As A Service (MaaS) involves pooling traffic data from all companies involved in a digital platform. However, all companies do not intend to provide what is the oil of today: the data.

The volumes of data available are reshaping the model for how companies bring products to market. As a result of the big amount of data sets now available, companies can now harness vast numbers of insights and create new ideas to attract customers and their provide new services. That’s exactly what do Amazon or Google, which have so much data on their servers that they can make themselves inescapable. Data is now the new oil of the 21st century. Who holds the datas holds the power. Many companies have that well understood.

The recent concept of MaaS – Mobility as a Service -, is the opposite of Amazon or Google. A digital platform, created by an external company, aggregates, under contract, all the traffic data of several companies and provides the traveler with a unique service with a single payment method. It may sound attractive, but not everything is as clear as it seems. The datas are commercial nuggets. In addition to the potential loss of ridership, transit companies are wary that a MaaS app could erode the direct relationship companies have with customers.

This is what David Zipper explains in a Citylab article about the Helsinki MaaS experience (1): ‘it’s not clear how effective MaaS can be if transit agencies—the backbones of mobility networks, especially in European cities—don’t want to see these third-party platforms succeed.’ In Helsinki, the transit agency HSL has not yet opened up its ticketing to allow Whim subscribers to enjoy the convenience of HSL’s monthly pass (instead, Whim users must obtain a new ticket every time they ride).

Many transit operators operate a monopoly network for a very long time, sometimes more than 50 years, in all European cities. They maintain close – and often ambiguous – relations with local political power. These operators have often taken years to promote their brand among users. These incumbents must also justify the subsidies granted by the city. The MaaS, with the emergence of new alternative operators, is experienced as a weakening of power, both for the incumbent operator, but also for some politicians, who lose some of the control of the movements of their constituents. With the datas, there is a great risk that some public transport lines are not justified, and that they have been exploited only on the basis of political considerations. There is a great risk that the flow of travelers does not correspond to the territorial equity desired by the political power.

Vélo vs bus ? Tout dépend, mais c’est clair que les cyclistes ne prennent pas les bus…

The other risk is to find that options from alternatives operators work better than the combination proposed by the incumbent. In some part of the day, it is possible to offer a trip from A to B in 18 minutes by electric bike, while the historic operator offers 3 combinations of buses or tram that take 30 minutes or more. During the summer season, many users will prefer the bike rather than 3 overheated buses!

These risks are well known to public transporters, who do not have the financial means or the political support to engage in complementary offers like self-service bicycles or scooters. Some line tram investments must retain their justification. Other politicians, on the contrary, use the MaaS to circumvent the monopoly and shortcomings of the incumbent.

In France, more than elsewhere, the evolution of MaaS obviously runs counter to a certain conception of the Republic. Cre-RAPT’s Connexions magazine notes that the boundaries between public and private transport, between individuals and communities, or between the different economic sectors of the city (real estate, energy, waste, mobility, etc.) are being questioned. This leads to rethinking the model of urban mobility and the sharing of roles between the different actors of the city.

Concerning data, object of all battles, the French organizing authorities claim the role of aggregator by justifying their character of common interest, whereas the traditional operators assert the right of protection of theirs datas in line to the industrial and commercial secret. Public authorities are undecited between maintaining their prerogatives and satisfaction of their voters. They are afraid of large private platforms, such as Waze, which deflects traffic by simple algorithms they can not control.

In Helsinki, it took a national transport law to force all carriers, including the incumbent HSL, to provide data to MaaS applications. Finnish law now requires any transportation provider to make its full ticketing functionality available to a third party. HSL has promised to give MaaS providers like Whim access to its convenient monthly passes by the end of 2018. Some people believe that this is a setback of the rule of law, others believe that go in the right direction. The debate is just beginning …

References

(1) Citylab, David Zipper, 2018 :  Helsinki’s MaaS App, Whim: Is It Really Mobility’s Great Hope?

RATP – Connexions 2017 (in french only) : Quel modèle économique pour le transport public demain ?

LinkedIn Pulse, Richard Rowson, 2018 : MaaS – cracks in the vision?

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