Adrian Schönig on MaaS and the future of transport

Passionate traveller and programmer, motorbike enthusiast, father of two young children – meet Adrian Schönig, based in Nuremberg, Germany, one of SkedGo’s co-founders and the company’s CTO. In this exciting time of change in the mobility landscape, our Marketing Manager Marlen (who is also married to Adrian) grilled him on his views of MaaS and where he sees transport going.

What does MaaS mean to you, and how would you describe it?

Mobility as a Service means using just one app, or your watch, or even Alexa, to find and book your transport based on your needs. It’s like a trip assistant, ideally pro-active, so it tells you in the morning how to get around, and which mode of transport you should use, like your car or bicycle…

… or maybe an autonomous vehicle?

No, there won’t be any autonomous vehicles showing up at your door in the very near future. You would totally need to change how cities are built, and the mindset of people, and get rid of other cars first before that can happen.

Autonomous vehicles had a lot of push a few years ago, and people were saying “in 5 years’ time, cars will be autonomous”, but you look at where they’re now, even the market leaders, they’re struggling just making a simple left turn at a busy larger intersection. It’s a much slower process than everyone thought, and the problem is how people behave on the road.

Many normal people driving around, breaking rules, means any autonomous vehicle would have to break rules much more as well to be able to get to where they want to go. Defensively driving vehicles just don’t have a chance when it’s very busy. Also, if you’re a pedestrian and there’s a (normal) car coming, you’ll be careful stepping onto the road in front of the car. You don’t know if the driver has seen you, you don’t want to be killed. But if there’s a little autonomous robot car coming, you’ll just cross. You know the car will stop if you just step in front of it. So the pod will have to stop much more often because so many people will just cross the road wherever they want. This means autonomous vehicles will have to have their own paths in cities where they can go, it will be more like a freeform kind of tram.

Implementing Mobility as a Service is a challenge. What would you say it needs most to be successful?

Basically, it needs regulation. You need to have a push from top down. Governments and cities need to push for it, it can’t come from the bottom up. Your goal with MaaS is to have a much more efficient use of the available infrastructure, and you’ll want to shift people to more active modes of transport, walking, cycling etc. and get them out of cars. If you do it from the bottom up, companies will go where they have the biggest margins, e.g. taxis, and you’ll end up with even more cars on the road. It’s one way MaaS could go, but it’d make things worse than they’re now. If you want to have a greener MaaS, you’d need to have the regulation in place which pushes for the better options.

The issue with transport generally is that most modes that are better for society aren’t necessarily the best on an individual level. One person will just choose to take their car from A to B to get there much more quickly and conveniently. But obviously as a society we don’t want everyone to do this, as it would lead to increased traffic. So you need to have regulation in place to push cars out of the cities and to encourage other modes of transport.

So where do you see SkedGo’s role?

SkedGo is an enabler. What we do is facilitate companies and governments engaging in mobility as a service and offer MaaS to citizens, employees, users etc. We provide the technology to bring all the different transport services together, one platform to see them all, with a really good user experience.

But to get mobility as a service out there, you need to have the regulation in place, and strong local brands. For example, a large company like Uber, or a city, which already have an audience, can then bring MaaS to that user base. These big players are the ones who have to actively push mobility as a service. As a comparatively small company we just can’t do that yet, but we do provide the technology to support them.

One thing I am excited about with SkedGo is that we’re not just reactive to the market, we’re also looking ahead to see what can be the end user experience in a few years’ time. I really like the idea of the trip assistant, something which tells you how to get around rather than you having to do your planning manually. So we’re enabling MaaS through our technology, but we’re also showing where it could go.

One company pushing Mobility as a Service is Citymapper. They now added a pass which lets people pay for their public transport and bike share (and promising to add more modes). What do you think about their approach?

It’s a small local MaaS offering in one city. It makes sense for them to do it in London, as that’s where they’re from. In the end, what they’re doing is  making it easier for people to use non-car modes. London is pretty good at that already, because it’s very expensive to take your car into the city, they have congestion charges and so on, but Pass makes it another little bit easier. As I said, you need to have companies who already have a good number of consumers for their MaaS offering to work, and that’s certainly true for Citymapper in London, so they’re in a good position to bring MaaS to the city.

However, with the payment side of things, I’m not convinced. If you can just pay with your credit card (or phone or watch), tap on and tap off anywhere I don’t think there’s a need for that aggregator who lets you pay for each individual thing. I don’t need to have a separate account with a MaaS operator to handle my payments, if I can just tap on and tap off with my credit card.

What about packages that give you good deals or flat rates for certain modes?

I don’t think there’s a real need for packages. The idea often is that similar to your phone, you’ll have a flatrate and that allows you to use any transport as much as you want. I don’t think that’s a good thing for most transport options. You wouldn’t want people to take a taxi as much as they want for example, or have a flat rate on autonomous pods driving everyone around.

Especially from a city level, looking at the environment and congestion issues, you probably don’t want to encourage people to move around a lot. Yes, you want to have free green options, walking of course, but also cycling, but then for the rest you’d ideally use PAYG, it’s a much better model for transport. And for that I don’t need a MaaS operator to handle my payments. I need my one app to organise and book the trip, but then the payment side of things is a separate issue. I can just tap on and off with my phone or credit card, as I can already do in London. It’s definitely very convenient!

Coming back to the future of MaaS, do you think it will all grow together at some point in the future, and you’ll be able to travel around the world just using one giant MaaS system?

I’m not sure, especially in the beginning every city will have its own mobility as a service. So what Citymapper is doing is a small improvement over what’s available at the moment. But transport is such a local play, there’s not much in terms of economies of scale. Once you have MaaS going in one city and want to go to the next, it’s not like “we’ve already done 80% of the work, we only need to re-do the last 20%”. Basically, in a new city, there are different transport providers, and you need new agreements. Every city is just very different in terms of transport. So for MaaS operators, going from one city to the next there are no economies of scale, it’s very slow.

Horace Dediu, who is very interested in micro-mobility, alternative small modes of transport like e-scooters, invited me to join a panel at the micro-mobility conference in Copenhagen last year, which was very interesting. Micro-mobility is growing, and will radically change the face of cities and the face of transport, because they’ll make more transport options available. And then you’ll need MaaS to make it easy to access and use them. You can’t have MaaS without having a good variety of transport options. Horace Dediu said that especially with micromobility there are no economies of scale, each mode needs to pay for itself. His estimate is that there are around 20,000 markets around the world where micro-mobility makes sense, and it will be similar for mobility as a service.

CTO and Co-founder Adrian Schoenig leads the development teams at SkedGo. He studied information systems and computer science in Germany and Australia, and finished with a major in artificial intelligence from UNSW. While he was working towards a PhD in AI, Claus and Tim won him over to SkedGo, and he didn’t look back.

You can learn more about him on his website as well as twitter and LinkedIn .

Image courtesy of Pixabay.