Author: Felix Salfner, Head of Product
The starting shot for MaaS came in 2014, the year when Uber managed to raise USD 1.2 billion in a financing round. Major investors included Google and Goldman Sachs. This event epitomises a trend that gained momentum throughout the mid-2010s: mobile digital platforms as enablers for the sharing economy and on-demand services that go beyond local solutions. In North America, the focus is on new brands that spend a considerable amount of time and effort to attract users (business-to-consumer, B2C). The key feature of the applications is radically simple operation via the smartphone (user experience/UX). Meanwhile, Europe has a different blueprint.
While “big capital” was breaking new ground in North America by developing digital business models for the mobility sector, more modest early steps were taken in Europe. In May 2014, a graduate student named Sonja Heikkilä submitted her Master’s thesis on “Mobility as a Service – A Proposal for Action for the Public Administration, Case Helsinki”. The thesis caused an international sensation. Media from all over the world reported on Heikkilä and Helsinki’s attempt to transform urban transport using this novel, digital and sustainable approach. The focus is on cooperation between municipalities and transport companies (business-to-government, B2G) to create a service for the benefit of citizens. The “Helsinki Model” marked the birth of MaaS in the narrower sense and generated a great deal of excitement. A few years on, MaaS continues to be regarded with the same fascination.
At that time, I worked first for SAP and then for Software Diagnostics and travelled a lot for my job. Each time I arrived in a city, I faced the same race against time to navigate the unfamiliar fare systems and choose from the various public transport options to get to my meetings on time. Most of the apps available back then were limited to a route finder function. On top of that, you had to install separate apps for bus, train or taxi services and sign up with each of them. As the number of mobility providers increased, so did the number of apps. At the time I was keeping a close eye on developments in North America and reports about the Helsinki Model, so I wondered if the whole procedure could be simplified in Germany as well. Today, as Head of Product at Mobimeo, I work towards making all mobility services available on a single platform. It connects public transport with taxis, sharing services for bikes, e‑scooters or cars, and much more.
The benefits of MaaS for society, the environment and individual users include:
– Personalisation and flexible adjustment to the needs of the user through multimodality
– Sustainability through climate-friendly alternatives to personal cars
– Reduced congestion in urban transport, , e.g. through better capacity utilization
– New billing models for mobility
However, mobility is also a competitive, multi-billion-euro market. So it’s only logical that new players are entering the market and investors want to see large returns.
An early period of enthusiasm in the mid-2010s initially gave way to disillusionment. First movers including Uber, Lyft and many mobility service providers (MSPs) are still not profitable to this day. The first decade of MaaS, which has yet to run its course, is marked by relatively low user numbers and a proliferation of service providers. Even in Helsinki, the European birthplace of MaaS, user numbers are far lower than expected. The realisation is that a fundamental change in mobility behaviour, the kind that MaaS is aiming for, cannot be achieved within a few years. These are longer-term goals that require the interplay of numerous actors. Currently, Germany and Europe offer the best framework conditions to pursue these goals.
Legislative initiatives of the European Union such as the Digital Markets Act, the Digital Services Act and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are a strong signal that Europe has a new sense of confidence to build and operate its own digital platforms. The European framework helps to raise standards for transparency and data protection. It means that European tech companies, when they first begin designing their offerings, can already consider the related requirements.
Public transport is the cornerstone of the transport transition in Germany. It is the backbone of mobility in communities, cities and regions and it enables us to get around sustainably while protecting the climate. Today, millions of users already use the digital services of their local public transport operators, for example searching for the best route on the website or app. The transport companies and associations have therefore taken a first step and laid a crucial foundation for a successful transport transition: a digital interface to their customers that must now be developed and expanded in order to make these apps the central access point for mobility and to retain customers in the long term. With the establishment of this interface comes the task of handling emerging data and findings responsibly. Since access to everyday mobility and the use of available funds to build an infrastructure that meets demand will primarily have a local and regional impact, municipalities, transport associations and companies are also the first point of contact for citizens and users on site for MaaS. The great opportunity lies in the connection of all means of transportation in order to be able to provide offers from a single source for the needs of all user groups – from digital natives to commuters – which can be adapted to their respective needs.
With intuitive apps, seamlessly integrated multimodal alternatives and all relevant information throughout the journey, we inspire users of apps built on our platform for MaaS solutions. As a product company, we are able to translate our findings – from user surveys, for example – into new features that we make available to our customers. This allows us to reach a large number of users with short development cycles. Based on the data we provide, local authorities, transport associations and companies can make better decisions about what digital offers they want to make to their users, how they communicate with them, and how they retain users.
Building on our platform, they can create complete apps as well as individual modules within their existing apps, thus expanding their offerings and creating lasting customer relationships.