MaaS in smart cities – rethinking and personalising mobility

Environmental problems are forcing cities to try to limit the use of private cars, which account for 70% of transport-related CO2 emissions and 17% of deaths annually in France according to the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES, 2016). Urban environmental policies are therefore developing their mobility services to give residents alternatives to private transport, with MaaS, or “Mobility as a Service”, receiving increasing attention.

MaaS streamlines the user experience to encourage uptake of public transport

In response to the plethora of payment methods, ticket types and lack of an overarching strategy for different transport modes (e.g. buses, trams, bikes, trains and taxis), MaaS makes mobility more accessible to users by grouping as many transport services as possible in one place. MaaS is an application with certain key functions that enable users to:

  • Get real-time information about the types, locations, timetables and prices of transport services through user geopositioning
  • Avail of a multimodal journey planner and flexible subscription packages
  • Combine different modes of transport in a single subscription and enable online or contactless ticket purchasing

Solutions tailored to local needs

Besides these key functions, each transport operator can also offer specific services for their area. This means that transport modes, services and offers can vary, from bike-share schemes, taxis, cable cars, trains and boats to pay-as-you-go, flexible packages and parking reservation.

MaaS applications facilitate integrated transport, protecting the environment (and health) by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They are also economically and socially advantageous, since they optimise traffic flow and consolidate costs while fostering inclusion and regional accessibility.

Real-world examples

  • On the back of significant public investment, Vienna launched a MaaS application called SMILE in 2012. The platform provided users with information on all transport services as well as ticket booking and payment functions, encouraging 26% of users to make greater use of public transport. Following the success of the initiative, SMILE was replaced by Wien Mobil. Since 2017, this new application has used open data to facilitate integration with mobility service providers. Local stakeholders stress the importance of public authorities alone regulating and controlling the data.
  • The Helsinki service is run by a private operator, the Finnish start-up Whim. Users can access real-time information about transport services and buy tickets, while the application also offers packages with no minimum subscription, allowing users to only pay for what they use. For example, the basic package at €49 a month gives users not only unlimited travel on bikes and public transport, but €10 towards taxi rides.
  • Hanover developed its own pay-as-you-go system called Mobilitätsshop. Their flexible package was aimed at occasional users, with prices starting at €9.95 and monthly billing based on usage.
  • In France, no system has yet gained unanimous recognition as a MaaS service, although some are on the right track. Mulhouse has set up Compte-Mobilité to give users access to five modes of transport from a single account. The application can be used to book parking spaces and rent bikes. It also offers flexible pricing packages and may soon include regional trains. Annemasse has a cross-border MaaS system, which integrates the town’s real-time information and transport services with those of Greater Geneva. The system focuses on rail services and will soon include bike hire.
  • In other places like London and Zurich, private companies are trying to build on the services and mobility packages of traditional operators. Citymapper is slashing prices on Transport for London subscriptions, while Yumuv is harnessing and combining data from Bern, Basel and ZüriMobil in Zurich. With a return on investment that is far from certain, the suitability of these alternatives given their for-profit nature raises concerns.

Opinion of the Smart City Competence Centre

MaaS offers personalised solutions developed around users’ mobility needs. The idea is to create a single subscription that gives users access to multimodal itineraries combining public transport, private transport (bikes and car sharing) and even car parking.

Designed and adapted to meet the needs of each location, MaaS has emerged as a major feature of smart city projects. Smart mobility services have the potential to grow beyond their original locality and engage with neighbouring areas.

Getting public and private stakeholders to work together remains complicated and will take time and require financial investment. The benefits will be quality of life, cleaner air and sustainable development.