Mobility as a Service: First Steps

  • Author: Andrew Carpenter
  • Date: February 20, 2018

This is part two of NCMM’s series on Mobility as a Service (MaaS), which explores how communities across the country can use this concept to improve mobility for all through effectively integrating technology and transportation options. If you’re unfamiliar with MaaS, head to our “What is Mobility as a Service?” post to get started.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is in many ways built on the partnership work many communities have been doing, but at the same time is a huge leap between how transportation systems operate now and how they might operate in the future. Thus it makes sense for mobility managers who hope to integrate MaaS into their networks to do so as a series of steps toward implementation of this concept. Taking this approach also gives communities the opportunity to develop benchmarks along the way to fully integrating services, fares, and public policy.

To guide mobility managers in visualizing steps toward full MaaS systems, senior researcher Jana Sochor of Chalmers University of Tech & RISE in Sweden, developed the following topology of Mobility as a Service for ITS America's 2017 Congress.

Graphic of Mobility as a Service Topology


The topology starts at Level Zero, with separate, non-integrated services, and ends at Level Four, with governmental policies, public-private cooperation, and integration of all possible mobility services.

Many communities in the United States remain at Level Zero, but a growing number are pushing into Level One, where entities compile route planning and payment information into one interface. Public agencies and private companies have started establishing themselves at this level in different forms.


Mobility Call Center

In a way, the original and most common iteration of a MaaS system is the coordinated call center. Call centers allow residents in a wide range of communities to find information about their local transit system that can otherwise be difficult to understand.

Call centers can range from offering simple information and referral (I&R) to transportation providers, to having mobility managers on staff to help callers navigate logistics and payment. Many versions exist in communities around the country, and serve as a kind of proto-MaaS: there is information about mobility services, but it is limited in accessibility and depends on a knowledgeable but often thinly-stretched staff as the keeper of information.

This role can be especially useful in rural communities that have less frequent, more demand response-focused services than urban areas, where people can feel especially isolated and navigation assistance offers an opportunity to overcome this barrier.

One example of this is outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Heritage Community Transportation recently started a navigation center to help residents in need find the services that would get them to their medical appointments or new jobs.


Interactive information

For communities with the technological resources, they can build upon the call center using shared data. A management entity, usually a private company at this point, can collect information from multiple transportation providers and make it available to passengers through one convenient app or webpage. With live information, users can then make decisions on their best options based on what is available in the moment.

Many apps currently exist at the first level of MaaS, a type of “soft integration.” The companies collect information on providers that share their information, and calculate the time and cost of utilizing different modes to reach any destination.

Transit App collects all possible modes of travel (excluding solo driving) into a useful menu which allows customers to visualize what is available near any given location and how each option gets them to their destinations. In cities like Washington, D.C., the app has even integrated locations of local dockless bikeshare bikes.  Its routing software also helps users understand the total trip length of any mode, including the walk to the transit stop or bikeshare bike, and helps travelers download and open the required apps to complete their journey.

Citymapper focuses on multimodality, meaning trips that use more than one type of transportation, such as mixing the bus and the train, to reach a destination. The app includes route planning that “creates new trip possibilities that [people] never knew existed” to educate users about how they can make their trips more efficient as well as more cost-effective.

To help in larger transit systems, Citymapper even provides step-by-step instructions on how to navigate stations, including the best spot to board a train. In the past, it has even guessed how long a trip might take in the future on personal jetpacks!

TransitScreen, a Washington, D.C., based company, takes a slightly different approach by focusing directly on behavior change. By placing real time transit information in front of people at key locations, the company hopes to influence travelers' transit decisions. The screens offer real-time information that highlight nearby options and arrival times, thus increasing awareness of existing transit options beyond driving.

The downside of these interfaces, though, is that they only work with systems that share their data feeds with the app. Prospective riders in transportation networks that lack the technology to join these services are unable to benefit, and would have to rely on published schedules or call centers rather than real-time information.


Serving the Public

While private companies have led the industry into soft integration, mobility managers, publicly funded transportation agencies, and policymakers are essential to lead the industry into levels three and four of MaaS. They provide the opportunity to develop a unified payment system that spans transportation options and allows MaaS programs to connect travelers to their ideal service.

Some agencies have already started exploring the Level 1 phase of MaaS in their communities in collaboration with their private-industry colleagues. The Shared Use Mobility Center does a great job at highlighting promising practices in the public realm that offer improved mobility for residents.

Los Angeles, in particular, has jumped ahead in this realm as L.A. County Metro seeks to develop a microtransit service that feeds more traditional bus and rail lines. Facilitating on-demand trips and guiding them toward more efficient routes helps transit customers access the public options that best serve their needs. This is also an example of how developing MaaS helps manage transportation options for their service areas and ensure all community members know how they can access mobility services.

From another perspective, transit agencies in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh have begun to work with local bikeshare systems to encourage taking bikes to reach previously distant transit, which particularly serves residents in areas with few good mobility options nearby.


In the meantime, if you’re looking for somewhere to start, the systems we’ve mentioned here provide informative models. Feel free to reach out to connect and learn more about what you can do with your community.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for our “Mobility Management in Practice” brief at the beginning of March, and mark your calendars for our MaaS webinar on March 8th at 2:00 EST.


Image Credits: 

Header: Oran Viriyincy, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

MaaS Topology: Jana Sochor, ITS World Congress 2017


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