Technology

Mobility as a Service: does Australia want it?

iMOVE CRC

A new report released by ITS Australia (ITSA) outlines Australian attitudes to a new wave of mobility services – and marks the first completed project by the year-old iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre.

The report is called Mobility as a Service: Customer insights and opportunities, stemming from the iMOVE project, MaaS and On-Demand Transport – Consumer Research and Report.

ITSA and iMOVE’s partners in this project were the Queensland Dept of Transport and Main Roads, Transport for NSW, Transport for Victoria, Department of Transport (WA), University of South Australia, and the Royal Automobile Association of SA.

What is MaaS?

MaaS is a relatively new – and possibly confusing – term to many people. Transport industry leaders, Cubic Transportation Systems, neatly define it as:

“… a combination of public and private transportation services within a given regional environment that provides holistic, optimal and people-centred travel options, to enable end-to-end journeys paid by the user as a single charge, and which aims to achieve public equity objectives.”

Payment for MaaS services is through either:

  • a monthly subscription (for continual access to all transport modes in a location)
  • Pay as you go via an app or smartcard, at a discounted rate but with limited access to all transport modes

Transport modes within a MaaS ecosystem are varied and can include: bus, train, ferry, tram, ride sharing, bike sharing, car hire, taxi, on-demand public transport, electric scooter, and walking. Indeed most people are already familiar with some form of integrated public transport offerings, but MaaS takes the concept much further.

MaaS and On-Demand Transport – Consumer Research and Report – the how

As you might expect with such a broad topic, the report is wide-ranging and it revolves around three core components:

  1. A review of the current status of MaaS models overseas and in Australia
  2. Industry expert interviews worldwide
  3. A large-scale survey of attitudes

The researchers interviewed more than 80 experts across the world from government, academia, and business to develop the survey questions.

More than 4,000 interviewees responded to questions covering topics such as their current transport habits, car ownership, and traffic congestion and public transport in their area.

Interviewees also responded to four scenarios each for on demand transport, and Mobility as a Service. This included possible transport modes and pricing models, uses (employment or social commuting), possible frequency of use, and how familiar they were with the concept of MaaS generally.

The thought behind the questions were to obtain answers to these questions:

  • What do we understand by the term MaaS?
  • What are the challenges MaaS faces in Australia?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • What are its potential impacts?
  • What needs to be considered to get MaaS up and running?
  • What are the public’s expectations and needs?

The survey results

Demographically, the respondents are split almost evenly by gender (51% are female, 49% male) and 80% are considered ‘urban’ (20% ‘rural – consistent with population density trends). The average age of respondents is 46. Probably unsurprisingly, the under 30s demonstrate a much stronger preference for MaaS and on-demand services than their older counterparts (40% versus 14% of over 65s).

Younger transport users in MaaS are also less likely to hold a driver’s licence, which can explain the interest in MaaS services. Around 23% of 18 to 25 year-olds in NSW and Victoria don’t have one, while in western Australia that figure jumps to 41%.

In terms of MaaS payment models, the pay-as-you go option is twice as popular as the monthly subscription for unlimited access model. This isn’t surprising given the early days nature of the offerings.

In what could be termed an overwhelming ‘No thanks!’ at this point in time, is the response to bike sharing. Given the roadblocks to cycling in Australia — lack of a cycling culture (when compared, for example, to some European cities), minimal cycling infrastructure, safety concerns, helmet laws, and the general low quality of share bikes — the lack of interest is not surprising.

But the shift to MaaS, more investment in infrastructure, and reduction in traffic congestion could diminish these roadblocks. Not to mention the impending introduction of electric sharebikes in Australia. It’s definitely an area to revisit to gauge interest, as active (healthy) transport gains in popularity and people’s movements demand increasing route flexibility.

What MaaS must be?

MaaS is less a new idea than a twist on something we know very well. The change ahead is not unlike our switch to decimal currency in 1966. It was still money, but there was a massive education program to have Australians comfortable with the new currency.

Likewise with MaaS. Many of us already use individual aspects of the transport ecosystem, but to know what MaaS Is, how much connectivity the systems brings, and how it twists known transport models demands a large and ongoing education of the public. The MaaS and On-Demand Transport – Consumer Research and Report project clearly demonstrates the appetite for MaaS, but also highlights the need for more knowledge of its composition and benefits.

It must also respond to key consumer concerns: How much will it cost? Does my area have good transport mode options? Will it be easy to use?

MaaS considerations

There are a lot of moving parts in play in MaaS. There’s the addition of all transport options, the inclusion of both public and private transport, businesses working out how each will take their back-end cut of the subscriptions and fares, and the juggling of resources and regulatory and governance frameworks to ensure that all of the system is healthy.

Attending to the health of the entire MaaS system is also an important ongoing task. A recent study in Boston concluded that for short urban trips the public is likely to lean heavily toward on-demand transport and ride sharing. If this is also the case in Australia, levers will have to be in place to look after the role of public transport. Data collection on actual usage will be critical.

Also on watch will be the affect MaaS has on traffic volumes. If car use drops, then we can focus on issues such as land use (less on-street and multi-level parking stations for example), footpath design, bike lanes, perhaps even scooter lanes. These latter options will surely then lift the levels of active transport — more walking, perhaps even more cycling.

What’s next?

If there’s one clear takeaway from the MaaS and On-Demand Transport – Consumer Research and Report, it is that people are expressing a clear interest in making this transport shift. And behind the scenes a lot of people, companies and governments are moving to make MaaS happen effectively.

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