In the UK it has been hard to create a Mobility as a Service offering centred around public transport, and that must change

The Jelbi app

With the cost of living crisis biting, people need alternatives to expensive cars and expensive fuel bills. Over in Europe, entire countries are trialling super low cost public transport (€9 per month for local transport anywhere in Germany being the highest profile example). Many link together their core public transport with shared bikes and other services to enable people to cover the last mile easily using Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platforms.

To continue our Germany comparison, in Berlin you can use the Jelbi app on all public transport and to summon on-demand buses, in the less well served eastern suburbs, or to book e-scooters, car-club vehicles or bike share. There are real world Jelbi stations – hubs for the vehicles on offer from mobility providers that partner with the app – which are often at public transport interchanges. Other providers integrated in the app include Emmy, Lime, Nextbike, Miles, Mobileeee, Nextbike, Taxi Berlin, Tier, Voi, and VBB – a total of 45,000 vehicles and 12 mobility offerings integrated into the platform. About 8% of the total population of Berlin have used the app.

Not so much in the UK. We are way behind our continental neighbours on linking transport to give passengers effective mobility networks. The closest to this in the UK is London’s Oyster – but this notably does not integrate London’s excellent and well-used bike share scheme (or any of the newer private sector offerings).

A potential breakthrough is that over the last year, we have seen a number of MaaS pilot projects underway, including three Future Transport Zones with funding to create MaaS platforms and Manchester recently announcing a new MaaS partnership. It’s possible that these auger some improvement, however the path is not smooth, and experience to date suggests that the efficacy of MaaS apps is dependent on operators and partners.

In Scotland, the HITRANS app, GO-HI, uses the Mobilleo MaaS platform. Project partners include Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Car Club, Bewegen, Brompton Bike Hire, Stagecoach Bus, West Coast Motors, Inverness Taxis, ScotRail, Loganair, Shotl, Skedgo, Orkney Ferries and Northlink Ferries. Whilst the technical work to integrate most partners is complete, bus ticketing requires an inelegant workaround and the ticket types offered are limited to daily, weekly and monthly passes which do not match those offered on Stagecoach’s own website in association with its travel planner. With this limitation, and without a ‘best price guarantee’, it will be difficult for the app to reach its full potential.

Cities internationally which have strong MaaS offerings centre that offer around public transport, linking in ‘last mile’ offers including DRT and bike share to enhance their network

Cities internationally which have strong MaaS offerings centre that offer around public transport, linking in ‘last mile’ offers including DRT and bike share to enhance their network. There is a demonstrable reduction in dependency on privately-owned cars where this takes place (for instance in Strasbourg, 60% of survey respondents of users of the combined DRT and public transport service reported reducing their car mileage since its introduction and 20% reported reducing their number of vehicles owned).

However, in the UK, it has been hard to create a MaaS offering centred around public transport in this way. It seems obvious to state it, but without regulation there is nothing to compel bus operators to participate in MaaS and in practice participation is piecemeal and not optimised. It’s unlikely that the comparative weakness of MaaS in the UK is a coincidence.

Whilst issues for operators are understandable and much discussed – MaaS adds a layer of cost of doing business, and may (in some models) interpose a layer between operator and passenger – the available evidence is that it grows the market. However, the best evidence we have indicates that the overall impact is positive. When the most ‘MaaS-like’ system in the UK was introduced – the London Oyster – Transport for London saw rapid financial benefits. Oyster provided a best value guarantee as well as ticketing across bus, rail and underground.

Shashi Verma, TfL’s chief technology officer and director of Customer Experience, has previously remarked: “The examples we can cite about the increase in public transport usage through the creation of an integrated ticketing platform in Oyster and contactless are very genuine. On National Rail, the introduction of Oyster pay as you go increased traffic by about 5% or 6%. That is a very substantial amount of increase, especially when it is marginal revenue coming into the National Rail system.”

In England, three Future Transport Zones were announced in 2020, all three of which included plans to build MaaS data platforms; WECA (West of England Combined Authority), Solent, and Nottingham and Derby. They are at different stages of procurement, with two platforms procured (Solent and a pathfinder project targeted solely at University of Derby students) and two underway.

The piecemeal, operator by operator integration is where the hard work begins. Each requires a bespoke legal contract which must be negotiated

However, those platforms that are in development have proved that the technology is the easiest part. The piecemeal, operator by operator integration is where the hard work begins. Each requires a bespoke legal contract which must be negotiated between the local authority team (requiring the participation of their lawyers) and operators. Both companies and authorities are under pressure so this can be a protracted process.

This piecemeal negotiation can also translate into a piecemeal experience of MaaS for the customer, with some operators requiring transactions to take place off the MaaS platforms whilst others are happy for the platform to collect and settle payments. In addition, apps which do not offer the best prices available, will have limited appeal. So the fares and tickets offered must be the best offer operators make, rather than a limited or more expensive range. Ensuring this universally has proved difficult.

Only one MaaS platform currently in development is attempting a full account based ticketing integration with the local bus operator. The Derby Go app will integrate with Nottingham-based Trentbarton and also with campus-serving Uni bus. This means that bus ticket sales will be possible within the app, with dynamic ticketing available, journey history visible and account top-ups enabled. This is a very comprehensive, detailed and complex integration which, once complete, will mean that buses are available on the app in the same way they are available directly to Trentbarton passengers. This will be a development well worth watching. The app will be marketed particularly intensively to students arriving at the university before term starts to reduce the numbers bringing cars and to encourage those with cars to reduce their number of trips.

The faltering progress towards providing better services is indicative that the UK model for running a transport network probably isn’t the best one possible. However, with changes afoot we may soon have more models at our disposal than ‘London model’ versus ‘the rest’.

A few years ago, TfGM ran a MaaS simulation with Atkins, using the transport available – including the metro, buses, the on-demand access bus, taxis and active travel routes. It demonstrated that good journey planning could create a more compelling transport offer and that people would use it and travel by car less, given better information and a combination of options. It was particularly interesting that people on the trial hadn’t realised that they could use the on-demand bus service. However, fares and ticketing were complicated and they could only simulate a simplified booking and payments system which meant that a full MaaS experience couldn’t be tested (or, ultimately, implemented).

Bus reforms in Greater Manchester, culminating in franchising, will change this. From the first full working week of September, maximum bus fares for adults in the conurbation have been capped at £2 for a single and £5 for a day ticket. The implications for MaaS in Manchester is that a future platform will be able to give a best price guarantee.

Whilst TfGM has announced a partnership that will provide a journey planner covering the Greater Manchester region, ticketing will only follow in a later iteration. The current plan is to serve up the benefits of car-free travel and enable users to see the CO2 output for each trip, and prioritise journeys based on low carbon emissions, time taken, convenience and cost. Whilst this is laudable, only the combination with best value pricing will be really compelling.

Whilst the Manchester process moves forward slowly, the bitter truth is that we need an order of magnitude of change and matching investment across transport and that this is a gargantuan task. We need to deploy all the means possible to make transport accessible and available and easy for all, so that in this crisis – which is unlikely to end any time soon – people can travel without it costing them (or all of us) the earth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Beate Kubitz specialises in analysing new technology, agendas and behaviours and articulating their potential future impact.

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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