A trial of the revolutionary ‘Mobility as a Service’ concept will begin in the West Midlands in a few weeks, with the region seeking to become a leader

 

 

By Robert Jack

Mobility as a Service, MaaS, is heralded as a concept that will propel transport into a new era – and later this year a group of 500 transport users in the West Midlands will become guinea pigs, making multi-modal journeys by bus, train, tram, taxi, bicycle and hire car.

MaaS promises to revolutionise how we consume transport services in the same way that platforms like Netflix and Spotify have completely transformed how many of us consume television and music. In the future we will purchase a mobility package and use our smartphones to make seamless, multi-modal, door-to-door journeys.

The concept is already being tested in Helsinki, and next in line is the West Midlands. Laura Shoaf, managing director of Transport for the West Midlands, spoke about this pioneering move at the Transport Systems Catapult’s Imagine Conference 2017 in Milton Keynes last week.

Despite the “lame name”, Shoaf believes that Mobility as a Service is an “incredibly exciting” concept. With the population of the West Midlands forecast to grow by 440,000 by 2035, she sees it as an opportunity to accommodate increased demand for mobility without gridlock. Shoaf and her TfWM colleagues want to reduce the number of single occupancy car journeys, and MaaS is seen as a way of offering a genuine alternative.

Shoaf said that the proposition must be as easy, or easier, than owning and using your own car,  and she wants the West Midlands to be at the forefront of this revolution. TfWM is not seeking to make the technology itself. For the trial, it has partnered with Helsinki-based MaaS Global, using its ‘Whim’ mobile app.

It’s essentially like a phone contract for your travel.

“It’s essentially like a phone contract for your travel,” she said. As with phone contracts, users might begin with a pay-as-you-go package to test the waterbefore migrating to a packagethat offers a fixed number of points and ways of travelling (see examples below).

 

 

Participants in the trial include the region’s dominant bus operator, National Express West Midlands, the Midland Metro light rail system, taxi operators, car and bike rental companies and Silverrail, a technology company with a mission to transform rail’s online customer experience.

The trial will begin internally. in a few weeks. It will then be expanded this Autumn to cover a group of around 500 volunteers, located throughout the region.

“We are rolling it out quite slowly because the worst possible thing to do is give somebody something that doesn’t work. They just won’t come back to it,” Shoaf explained.

TfWM has not provided any public sector funding for the trial. It sees its role as facilitating a collaborative culture in the West Midlands. “We want to tap into intelligence that we know we don’t possess ourselves,” Shoaf explains. The hope is that this approach will encourage other innovators to come and “play”, establishing the region as a leader in innovation.

So what will success look like? “Really the most important thing is if it will be used,” she responded. “If people will genuinely get out of their single occupancy vehicle and give up driving to the city centre and take a range of transport options.”

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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