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March 27 2019
By Jessica Barton

Jessica writes for routeone, Group Tourism & Travel, and is the Editor of Coach Drivers Club News


Will MaaS destroy public transport?

ITS International’s latest conference examined the developments in the fast-changing Mobility as a Service sector

There has been some animosity towards Mobility as a Service (MaaS) within the coach and bus industry, with apprehensions that it will take passengers away from normal coach and bus services, rather than enticing new ones to use them.

A panel discussion on the impact of MaaS on traditional public transport

Other concerns such as safety, data security and privacy, and equity have also been raised.

However, some argue that public transport should form the backbone of MaaS to enable it to connect up cities in a way that cuts car use and serves all users.

ITS International’s latest MaaS Market conference, held at the Inmarsat Conference Centre in London last week (20-21 March), provided food for thought on the role of MaaS in the UK and beyond.

The two-day event examined the increasing digitisation of transport as a driving factor behind the rise of MaaS, the legislative and technological requirements to operate MaaS and the business models already being employed.

Various transport professionals from international and local authorities presented case studies of fledgling MaaS-style services in their region, helping delegates answer the important question: ‘Should we participate – and if so how?’

Bus representative

No secret was made of the fact that getting coach or bus operators to take part in the conference was difficult.

However, Patrick Warner, Head of Innovation Strategy at Go-Ahead Group subsidiaries Brighton and Hove Buses and Metrobus, stepped up to the plate.

“I think as an industry we’re reluctant to change – culturally and from not understanding how we fit into the future of MaaS,” says Mr Warner when asked why he thought operators were reluctant to get involved.

“But it’s certainly not true of our own business and parent group.”

In a panel discussion Mr Warner was joined by speakers from different transport modes – including representatives from Taksi Helsinki, Eurostar and Keolis – to discuss the topic ‘Will MaaS destroy public transport as we know it?’

An opportunity

Mr Warner explained how MaaS is seen an opportunity by Go-Ahead Group-owned operators rather than a threat, with their first application of MaaS due out later this year.

Phase one of the new platform will see travel between bus and rail connected.

Says Mr Warner: “The app will work across Brighton and Hove Buses’ whole operating areas, so it does stretch outside of the city.

“It also includes Metrobus, which is centralised in Crawley but operates across all four counties, and the rail connectivity of our GTR franchise will bring connections into London and beyond as well.

“Therefore, it should take up a large chunk of journeys that people might wish to do.”

Why MaaS?

One of the desired achievements is that the bus services will feed around existing rail traffic rather than people taking their cars to the railway station.

“It’s also about making our bus services more efficient and having a chance at making our bus services more attractive and joining all of those up together in one place,” adds Mr Warner.

Mr Warner believes that this will then also play a part in improving air quality and public health. He also says he “massively” sees MaaS as an enabling tool for growth.

“The app is one way we can generate future growth for the business, but also make it easier for passengers to understand how to plan a multi-modal journey,” he says.

“I think MaaS would be a huge threat if we stuck our fingers in our ears and pretended it wasn’t going on around us.

“We’re really keen on being a relevant part of the future and leading as we have done in so many other areas of innovation over the last 20 years, so why wouldn’t we want to do this?”

UK first

One area in the UK where MaaS has already been rolled out is in the West Midlands, with the UK’s first MaaS, Whim, being launched in Birmingham last year. 

Speaking on the second day of the conference, Chris Pine, Head of Transport Innovation at Transport for West Midlands, explained the concept and the feedback it has received so far.

Incorporating buses, taxis and car and bike hires, Whim enables customers to find the perfect route, use the right transport for the journey, and pay for it all within the Whim app.

Says Mr Pine: “The UK is experiencing growth in alternative smatphone-based transport modes, such as Uber.”

As such services are already being selected by the customer at the expense of traditional transport, Mr Pine believes that it shows that if the industry does not respond and learn how to be agile the public will adopt new forms of transport anyway.

He adds: “MaaS has the potential to be at the centre of a dramatic change in a new sustainable, equitable, sharing society.”

routeone comment

With the first MaaS being launched in the UK just last year, it’s no surprise that it’s being met with trepidation.

While the coach and bus industry is renowned for its forward thinking and embracement of technology, there is always going to be that initial fear of the unknown.

Although MaaS does not yet have a major presence in the UK, this could change very quickly with the growing popularity of user-led and on-demand services.

Policymakers are now faced with the challenge of protecting against divisions between profitable and unprofitable routes, which will result in public transport being left to the least well-off demographics and areas of cities – something that needs to happen while also encouraging the sharing of information and data.

Will MaaS destroy traditional public transport? There’s no question that it will likely have an impact, but done properly, with some joined up thinking, it could make public transport use more efficient, which can surely only be a good thing. 



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