The Spotification of Transport: Seamless MaaS and the Future of Getting There

by | Jul 15, 2019 | Digital Transformation, News

Today’s patchwork of travel reservations made in various legs covered by independent transport services from home to the destination and back cannot ensure the best overall price for the journey, an optimum route, an efficient use of time, adequate capacity, or environmental sustainability.

Consumers spend hours on search, comparing between competing ground and air transport services and finding schedules that match up from one end of the journey to the other.

They may have to travel by car just to get from their front door to a rail station or airport. Once there, they may face a long search for a parking spot, a long check-in process to drop off their bags, a wait for departure, and then a rush to make a connection. They will hope that their luggage ultimately makes it where they are going and that there isn’t a long queue for taxis at the other end, if there are no ride-sharing services available.

But what if consumers could simply say where they are headed and all of the various options aligned on a single search, to show the optimum combination of transport options available for a stated price, all purchased with a single transaction?

That’s the vision of Mobility as a Service: getting from point A to point D seamlessly. While some believe that this is the future of transport, there are many hurdles to overcome along the way in search, reservations systems, vehicles and payments. But the foundations for MaaS already exist and the most basic technology integrators—APIs—can help stitch the seams together.           

Advances in Search

The first hurdle for MaaS service will be in generating an effective search engine that can bring together various modes of transport and offer optimal journey maps. Already, technology companies are eager to fill the market gap on transport information. For example, the Moovit app gives users a view of public transport combinations available to get them where they are going. Moovit announced last year that it would provide its public transit data services, crowdsourced through more than 300 million registered app users in 2,600 cities and 85 countries, to Microsoft Azure Maps. Azure plans to use this data to help developers integrate real-time transit data in augmented trip-planning maps.

“Developers and customers alike have been asking for a comprehensive mapping solution that brings together location awareness with public transit data to provide a full picture,” said Tara Prakriya, Group Program Management for Azure Maps and Connected Vehicles, Microsoft. “By offering location awareness with public transit data on Microsoft Azure Maps, developers not only can create more sophisticated and smarter, real-time location-based apps, but our cloud customers across a variety of industries like automotive, public sector, manufacturing and healthcare will be able to leverage this data to continue to improve how people get around and get access to services globally.”          

While mobility as a service intends to bring all of the elements of the journey together under a single app, that app may not be single-source. The race is on for Google and Apple to offer similar enhanced journey data as part of their map directions. 

In fact, if we think of MaaS as an integrated search approach, then it’s possible for various transport providers to create MaaS alliances that offer competing levels of services, products and features, each offering a comprehensive journey map solution. Think of these as extensions of airline interline agreements or, perhaps more accurately, as an extension of the virtual interlining approach offered by independent services like Kiwi, Dohop and even by GDS Amadeus.

Airlines as a Nexus

While MaaS promises to improve urban travel by reducing the need for personal vehicles and offering greater access to clean public transport alternatives, longer journeys will still need to integrate air travel and airlines could offer reservations that include a true ground to air, door-to-door service. 

If it seems far-fetched for airlines to start to think of themselves as a nexus for MaaS, then consider Munich Airport’s efforts to integrate transport services through the Passngr App—a shared airport app for Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Münster/Osnabrück—which aimed to capitalize on transport and traffic data from the airport’s technology partner Siemens to offer a multimodal view of the journey to the airport. Passengers would be able to select their flight, their preferred mode of transport to the airport—ride-share or public transport—and the app would calculate the cost of the airport transfer and time required, based on live traffic data. While the vision of offering a real-time view of various transport options has not yet been realized, they did identify a gap in the market and saw a benefit to several airports which may share customers, of providing the same information through a jointly developed app.

“The value of mobility as a service is that transportation has become intermodal. People don’t want to think about what transport to use. They just care about the destination and they care about time and costs,” said Anita Neudeck, former senior manager of innovation and partnering for Munich Airport. “The second [priority] is that travelers want to be informed at every step in the journey.”

For airlines, the foundation for MaaS lies in their existing ancillary partnerships with ground transportation services. By adding other related services, like bus transfers, metro, rail connections, and even VTOL transfers when those become available, airlines could give customers true door-to-door bookings.

Automotive Pivot

Automobile manufacturers are already thinking of how MaaS will re-shape their business and their product and the partnerships they need to make their product a more meaningful part of a mobility network. For BMW, this not only means considering future automation of vehicle operations, but also finding ways to give passengers relevant information on the whole of their journey. 

“Mobility apps will change and already have changed the behavior of our customers completely. They are offering an array of mobility needs to go from A to B whereas. In the future [consumers] are interested in the most beneficial mobility chain in accordance to mobility criteria,” John Schoenbeck – Director of Strategic Partnering, Designworks, A BMW Group Company said. “The mobility needs are moving closer together. We are asked to generate innovation together with aviation, rail, and the smartphone to look at everybody’s needs.”

For added value, BMW is also thinking beyond the door. “We need to understand the customer..from car to plane to train. We need to understand these transitions to come up with the right product, not only hardware but software. We need to also understand with other platforms like smart home and smart office,” Schoenbeck said. “We are moving into the space where we basically design digital devices..because [customers will] look at the car as an assistant or as a device rather than as an emotional object.”

The Role of Automation

Automation will have a role to play in optimizing a MaaS network, with AI helping to generate the most efficient routes, making self-driving vehicles and VTOL transport financially viable, and generally reducing the costs of the door-to-door journey so that a subscription-model service, a Spotify of transport, or a single-ticket journey can offer everyone along the transport chain sustainable business models.

“Artificial intelligence is now producing the capability to fly or drive or sail, most of the vessels and vehicles autonomously over the next ten years,” said Lars Thomsen chief futurist at Future Matters.  “That’s very important because artificial intelligence is a total game changer. Many people believe that it’s not just a logical step up from digitalization that we have, but it’s a totally new paradigm of how we are dealing with computers in the future.”

The automation of transport is not straight-forward; the more complex the vehicle and the more complex the operating environment, the greater a need for human intervention in the process.

“New technologies like autonomous aircraft will only be allowed if these systems are by at least a factor of 10 more safe than if you would have humans,” Thomsen said. “But I believe that if you have automated traffic control and object avoidance and a new paradigm of how you are managing the lower air space then I think autonomous vehicles will be even safer than driving the car or anything else.”

The other consideration of greater automation as is the impact this will have on lifestyle and, by extension, on the customer’s service expectations.

Schoenbeck of Designworks says BMW views the role of the automobile, when occupant is not the driver, as “a lifestyle space—could be an office, could be a room to meet friend, it could be anything.”

“We understand different customers of ours as travelers, with different digital footprints,” he added. “They have specific needs and behaviors—what they do in the morning, when they get to work, in the afternoon when they come home to their families. We tried to categorize each one of these digital needs as verticals..We’re researching digital interaction needs in the realm of mobility ease or management all around the vehicle itself. Business productivity is one of the most important, communication and entertainment are super important.”

Schoenfeld suggested that airlines take note of how these needs can transfer to other legs of the journey, “They have expectations from cars that they take into airplanes, and expectations from business class to their cars. We need to understand how a customer interacts in a cabin environment.”

BMW Designworks also identified “mental and physical well-being and safety as well as control” as priorities for travelers. These have to be addressed differently in an automated vehicle where the occupant is relying on systems for safe operations. These assurances would come though digital feedback, like sensors to gauge the occupants state of mind and suggest routes that address emotional needs—perhaps a scenic route when they need to wind down, an optimized route when they are in a rush—haptic feedback which confirms the receipt of instructions, and the integration of a trusted virtual assistant as part of the user interface.