Mobility as a Service (MaaS) makes it possible: owning a car will become unnecessary in the city of the future. You will be able to book an e-scooter, a car-sharing, or a cargo bike on the next street corner, all via one app. And you will not need to worry about the payment because you will have a flat rate.
While it might sound futuristic at first, the truth is that MaaS is no longer just a dream of the future. There are more and more platforms that link together different transport services and offer MaaS on a small scale in many European countries. But how exactly does MaaS work, why is it so revolutionary and how could it change the way we get around the cities in the next few years?
What is Mobility as a Service? – A definition
Mobility as a Service means that various transport services, from car- and bike-sharing to public transport and taxis, are bundled together in a single platform. Via this platform, you have the possibility to book the means of transport of your choice. Ideally, you pay according to the travel distance or choose a subscription that suits your needs. This means that in the end, it doesn’t matter which means of transport you use for your trip because, like with mobile phone service, you will have a flat rate.
A typical working day could then look like this:
You are too late in the morning to take the underground to the office. No problem, there’s an e-scooter waiting for you on the next street corner. You simply need to activate it via your app and drive off. For a meeting on the other side of town, you book a car-sharing and for the way home at the end of the day, you take the underground- this time in a relaxed manner. And on your way home, you reserve an e-cargo bike for your weekend visit to a DIY store.
Does that sound promising? In fact, MaaS has the potential to fundamentally change our view on transport services, while having a positive impact on our environment.
Übrigens: Note: Mobility as a Service should not be confused with Mobility on Demand. The latter refers, for example, to shared taxis or similar services that run on demand and usually pick up several passengers at once.
Flexible, convenient, environmentally friendly – the most important advantages of MaaS
Mobility as a Service has several advantages for you as a user as well as for the environment and the quality of life in cities:
- High flexibility: At any given moment, you can use the means of transport that is best suited to your purposes and is located nearby. This means that you are flexible and can reach your destination using the shortest route.
- More overview: Do you often lose track of the many different forms of transport in your city? That will be a thing of the past once you can find them all on one central platform. No more jumping from one app to another. Multimodal MaaS platforms can also tell you right away how long it takes you to get to your destination by the different forms of transport.
- Easy planning and payment: MaaS platforms make route planning easier. In addition, you no longer have to pay for each trip and each means of transport individually. With a subscription, you will know what you pay each month, regardless of the mobility service you use.
- Fewer cars in cities: Experts believe that MaaS can help reduce the number of private cars in cities. This has a positive impact on reducing air pollution and traffic jams and makes an important contribution to the fight against climate change.
- More space: Fewer cars require less parking space. If more people use e-bikes and e-scooters, opportunities to make cities greener, quieter and more liveable emerge. In turn, the quality of life could increase for all residents.
MaaS platforms also bring great advantages for providers of transport services. They can make their offerings more attractive by networking with others and they can also reduce their administrative burden. The prerequisite for this is successful cooperation – we will come back to this topic later.
From 0 to 3 – the MaaS integration levels
According to ITS Austria, platforms for mobility services can be divided into four different integration levels, so-called MaaS miA-Readiness-Levels:
- Level 0: Separate offers: You can book individual offers on a separate website or in a separate app. Those offers are not interconnected.
- Level 1: Integration of information You receive information about different mobility offers on one platform. For example, you can look up timetables for the underground, buses and trains and plan routes with different means of transport. If you want to book your journeys, however, you have to do this via the respective provider. A well-known example of service at this integration level is Google Maps. ITS Austria also distinguishes between sub-levels 1a and 1b. While level 1a includes information only about public transport, level 1b also integrates private mobility services such as car-sharing.
- Level 2: Integration of tickets At this level, you can plan, book and pay for a journey with different means of transport on one platform. This is made possible, for example, by the Jelbi service from the Berlin public transport company.
- Level 3: Packages and flat rates: Platforms at the highest level allow you to have flat rates or subscriptions for different means of transport. You can then freely choose an e-bike, an e-scooter or a car-sharing as part of your subscription. This translates into a full overview and transparent costs. A pioneer in this area is the Finnish service Whim.
The status quo – this is how far we have come on the way to Mobility as a Service
Transportation in countries like Germany or Austria is still dominated by private cars and separate platforms for a car- or bike-sharing, ride services like Uber or public transport. But thanks to technical innovations, such as e-mobility or GPS trackers, the development of innovative mobility services has accelerated in recent years.
Sharing services are shaking up the market
The first car-sharing service already existed in Germany at the end of the 1980s. However, the principle of STATTAUTO at that time differed significantly from modern car-sharing options. After all, there were only seven vehicles at three locations and anyone who wanted to book one of them usually had to do so days in advance and via a landline, of course.
Today, there are 2028 car-sharing providers in Germany, offering their customers over 26,000 vehicles. Whether station-based or free-floating, offered by large automobile companies or start-ups, the choice is large. And booking is no longer done via telephone but via the Internet and designated apps. Moreover, sharing services are no longer limited to cars. E-scooters and e-bikes are becoming increasingly important in inner-city areas. With both, there is no need to search for a parking space and you are no longer stuck in traffic jams during rush hour. If you rent a cargo bike, you can even benefit from these advantages when transporting bulky items.
For users, sharing services already provide numerous advantages:
- You save money because you don’t need to own a car, but can share one with many others.
- The provider takes care of the maintenance and necessary repairs of the vehicle.
- Depending on the sharing service, you can choose between different types of vehicles.
- A garage or a fixed parking space in the neighbourhood is not needed anymore.
- The more car-sharing is available and the fewer people use their private cars, the more the environment benefits. This is also thanks to the fact that sharing services increasingly rely on CO2-saving electric mobility.
E-mobility and tracking open up new opportunities
E-mobility is a crucial building block for MaaS. This is especially true in connection with smart tracking solutions. Such solutions make efficient management of e-bike fleets or vehicle protection from theft or misuse possible.
A good example of a smart tracking solution is the BikeTrax GPS tracking system from PowUnity. Thanks to GPS trackers and a special platform for fleet management, fleet operators can track the location of all their e-bikes at any time and thus digitally manage their fleets. By integrating the fleet platform into a booking system, you as a customer can see where the next bike is located and can also book it directly via the system. While this is not yet a fully-integrated MaaS solution, it is a cutting-edge type of connected mobility solution.
In addition, the BikeTrax GPS tracker functions as a highly effective anti-theft protection for e-bikes. As soon as an e-bike is moved without authorisation, the fleet providers are informed. If they can no longer prevent theft, the location of the e-bike can be tracked in real-time. Thanks to that, the chances of getting the stolen e-bike back are significantly higher.
GPS tracking of e-bikes is an example of how the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing our world. Find out more about the technology and other use cases of IoT in our article “Internet of Things, bikes and GPS tracking: the future is connected!”.
From tracking to new business services – examples of modern mobility services providers
A growing number of companies are successfully using the BikeTrax GPS tracking system to offer modern mobility services to customers.
These companies include:
A cargo bike when you need it? Cargoroo makes it possible. This young Dutch company uses a system that you probably know from various car-sharing services.
- To use a Cargoroo cargo bike, you first have to download their app and register.
- Then you can use the app to search for a cargo bike in your area and to reserve it. To be able to use the bike, you need to unlock it using your smartphone.
- At the end of the ride, you need to return the bike to the designated point and lock it again.
Cargoroo’s cargo bikes have a security belt holder for babies to ensure a safe journey with children. In addition, the service is suitable for anyone who wants to transport heavy and bulky items in the city. In the near future, Cargoroo plans to expand to other European countries.
The UK provider Pedal Me operates within a 9-mile radius around central London. Its service is the one for you when you like to “let” other people drive you and your friends or your belongings. For both purposes, you can book a cargo bike with a driver via the Pedal Me app.
Urban Connect is aimed at companies looking for a practical and environmentally friendly mobility solution for their employees. They can access an “all-inclusive-subscription-fleet” via a platform, consisting of normal bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters and e-cars. The booking can be done via an app and in terms of billing, the employees can choose between a flat rate and a fee per booking. If everything goes according to the plan, this Swiss company wants to expand to other countries in 2022.
Cooperations – regional MaaS providers are the first stage
The companies that have been listed so far provide separate offers of mobility services. However, the first platforms that implement the MaaS principle in individual cities or regions also already exist. The best-known platform of this kind comes from Finland.
Whim – all means of transport in one app
Whim by MaaS Global started in Helsinki in 2016, but the service is now also available in several other European cities, including Vienna. Users can book a means of transport of their choice via one app, from public transport to taxis to e-scooters. In addition, they can pay directly via the app or even choose between subscriptions or prepaid packages, depending on the city. This makes Whim a true MaaS provider pioneer.
Mobil-Flat Augsburg – German MaaS platform
The swa Mobil-Flat also deserves to be called MaaS. Under this name, Stadtwerke Augsburg (swa) offers customers various “Mobil-Flats” for the city of Augsburg and its surroundings. Depending on which flat rate you choose, you can, for example, travel by bus and tram in the inner city for a monthly fee, and several times a day you can travel by bike for 30 minutes free of charge. In addition to that, there is an annual quota of between 60 and 360 hours or 600 to 3600 kilometres for car-sharing.
Jelbi – mobility service for Berlin
Jelbi is a project of the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG). Like Whim, it is based on an app through which you can book and pay directly for various means of transport. In addition to public transport, it includes bike- and car-sharing. However, Jelbi does not offer subscriptions or flat rates yet. Instead, you pay for each journey individually.
Mobility as a Service has the potential to help solve several issues at once: from environmental damage caused by emissions to traffic jams and lack of parking spaces in the cities.
However, there are still a few hurdles to overcome before this can happen. For example, MaaS platforms are only successful if different companies and authorities work together as partners. The technology must be reliable and users must have the feeling that a single system covers all their needs. Successful examples such as Whim or the Mobil-Flat-Augsburg already show that it is possible.
In combination with tracking solutions, e-bike fleets play a central role as environmentally-friendly and practical means of transport, whether as regular e-bikes or as cargo e-bikes. There are many new concepts for e-bike mobility in different cities. However, the development costs for these concepts are very high for individual operators. Therefore, companies have to work together. At PowUnity, we develop a GPS tracking system that makes these concepts possible. We work together with fleet operators and make sure that the system is adapted to the needs of their customers and the possibilities in the particular city.