Bus waiting at a bus stop and a car waiting at a train level crossing with train passing in the background.

Bus waiting at a bus stop and a car waiting at a train level crossing with train passing in the background.

Mobility as a Service: Where transport meets technology

Published 27/02/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

Integrated transport, active travel, and Mobility as a Service (MaaS) are the sustainable transport buzzwords of the moment. They’re often used interchangeably to describe a system or platform which efficiently joins up different transport modes to facilitate a shift from private vehicles to sustainable transport modes.

Adoption of MaaS has been highlighted by stakeholders as an opportunity to leverage behaviour change by UK travellers. Many stakeholder anticipate that encouraging use of zero and low emission transport modes through MaaS will help the UK achieve its net zero by 2050 target.

Developments in Welsh transport policy aimed at increasing sustainable transport and promoting integration may lend themselves to the implementation of MaaS.

What exactly is MaaS?

MaaS is a state-of-the-art transport operating model incorporating technology into transport systems. It aligns different types of transport services to allow passengers to plan, book, and pay for multi-modal journeys through a single platform (e.g. smartphone app or website). It focuses on ‘packaging up’ personalised services for customers considering their preferences and needs.   

Under more traditional transport systems the planning and booking of multi-modal journeys can be challenging. Passengers must go directly to each transport supplier to plan and book their journey, which can require a significant amount of effort. Manually planning and booking journeys in this way can be risky. For example, generally consumers are not protected against missing connections when booking each part of the journey individually. This can deter passengers from exploring multi-modal journey options.

The MaaS model shifts these tasks from the traveller to the service provider.

Figure 1, adapted from the World Bank, shows MaaS as the middle person between the user and mobility providers. MaaS facilitates easy and efficient access to transport and information from a range of sources on a single platform.

Figure 1: Diagram showing enhanced connection between users and mobility providers through the Mobility as a Service interface

Diagram showing enhanced connection between users and mobility providers through the Mobility as a Service interface.

How does MaaS work and what can it include?

Many sectors already use account based subscription services including entertainment (Netflix, ITVX, Disney+), retail (Amazon Prime), and groceries (Hello Fresh, Gusto). MaaS uses a similar business model with the aim to provide easy access to a variety of transport options from one digital platform.

Some MaaS providers offer users a choice of payment options,  including pay-as-you-go, day, week, or month passes. Some also allow users to opt for monthly billing, debiting their bank account for the mobility services they have used.

MaaS has the potential to facilitate and coordinate integrated travel across both public and private modes of transport. Since the pandemic car subscriptions have emerged as a new addition to the MaaS offer in some places. Some packages also offer add-on services such as parking, dining, food delivery, and discounts.  

Even with these additions to MaaS packages, alignment and efficient access to public transport remains the core part of the business model. Other transport modes including car sharing, taxis, bike hire, e-scooters and e-bikes are included within it to compliment the public transport offer.

What does MaaS look like worldwide?

The Finnish capital Helsinki is cited as one of the best examples of MaaS in practice. It is where MaaS was founded and trialled for the first time in 2017. The service is now well established in the city being used to book over 3 million trips in its first year.

Government support for the scheme, as well as legislative changes, contributed to successful implementation. Specifically, the Finnish Transport Services Act 2018 requires transport services to provide key information such as timetabling and ticket sales. This should be provided in real-time and be accessible from a MaaS interface in a standard format. This allows the MaaS provider to act as the central point of contact for the user to plan, book, pay, and receive live updates about their journey from one place. 

The Whim app used in Helsinki has been further developed and expanded into other urban areas across the world including: Antwerp; Greater Tokyo; Switzerland; Vienna; and closer to home in the West Midlands.

Urban and rural MaaS in the UK

The UK Government has produced a code of practice to guide MaaS implementation, anticipating its expansion across the country. However the implementation of MaaS is not reliant on changes to legislation and progress is starting to be made across the UK, for example:

MaaS is a proven concept in urban areas but opportunities also exist to explore its use and benefits for rural populations and it has started to be applied in rural areas.

This will be particularly relevant to Wales given around one third of the  population live in rural areas.

What’s happening in Wales?

The Welsh Government set out its aim to achieve modal shift and integrate transport modes in both its Wales Transport Strategy (WTS) and National Transport Delivery Plan 2022-2027 (NTDP). In particular, the WTS includes a target to increase journeys made by sustainable modes (public transport or active travel) from an estimated 32% to 45% by 2040.

Some steps to enhance integration and encourage modal shift to sustainable transport are being taken in Wales. For example, Transport for Wales (TfW) has launched integrated travel from Aberystwyth to destinations in South Wales through introduction of connected bus and rail services with one ticket. Integration will also be integral to the success of the Metro systems, and local government Regional Transport Plans, currently being developed in Wales.

In November 2023, TfW CEO, James Price, told the Senedd’s Climate Change Committee about its work to encourage collaboration and reduce direct competition between transport modes. Ticket types enabling multi-modal journeys include ‘Rail and Sail’ and ‘Rovers and Rangers’ travel passes. 

The NTDP points to the use and development of the MaaS operating model which utilises technology to enhance transport integration. For example, key priority (integrated ticketing and journey planning) aims to “make it simple for anyone to discover what sustainable transport options are available, plan a journey, book and pay for it” through better use of digital technology.

A Bill to reform and improve bus services in Wales through a franchising model is expected in the current Senedd term. A fully franchised bus system would allow the government and Transport for Wales (TfW) to specify how and where bus services will operate, and potentially the information they will have to make available to third parties, including MaaS providers.

The alignment of rail and bus services would support implementation of MaaS and Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters recently highlighted the vision to align public transport services during a meeting of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee, saying:

I think there's a profound and fundamental structural problem across the UK in which we treat rail versus bus. The truth is we need both, and that's why, from TfW, we are creating this idea of a guiding mind system where we'll be able to have a properly integrated transport system where we can plan bus and rail to join up.

As well as this integration of rail and bus services, other modes of transport including bike hire, e-bikes, e-scooters, car rentals, and taxis could also be aligned with Welsh public services to deliver a MaaS model.  

What next for MaaS?

The UK Government has said the implementation of MaaS is a complex undertaking: technically, commercially, and legislatively. The UK Parliament Transport Committee suggests a more joined up effort between service providers and the government will also be required to establish and implement a successful MaaS operating model.

In Wales, further work to develop a MaaS system will also need to take these  challenges into account alongside the efforts to align existing transport services, in order to create a suitable environment for this transport model to succeed.

Article by Charlotte Lenton, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament 

Senedd Research acknowledges the parliamentary fellowship provided to Charlotte Lenton by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which enabled this article to be completed.