While part of our team is busy attending the Open Mobility Conference 2019 in Brussels – which we are sponsoring and where our head of marketing Sandra Witzel is running a session on active travel – let’s talk about the benefits of an open mobility ecosystem for MaaS.

It’s encouraging to see a growing number of alternative modes of transport – from car sharing and ride hailing to scooters and bikes – alongside public transport systems. However, ensuring these collectively provide the same freedoms as private car use is challenging. From knowing what transport modes will be available when you need them to purchasing tickets for every leg of the journey, it’s currently not as straightforward as it could be.

Solving this issue is possible though – if we create an open mobility ecosystem with easy access to data. This will allow to provide transport users with all the information they need to plan and manage every stage of their journey before they even step out of the door.

But what is an open ecosystem and how does it relate to transport and MaaS? What are the challenges and opportunities? And how best are we to move forward? In this article, we’ll briefly explore some of these tough questions and why openness is central to making this happen.

Defining an open ecosystem

Essentially, it’s made up of an interconnected network of transport-related stakeholders that develop and share for example data, infrastructure, platforms, technologies, protocols and best practices to help create mobility solutions covering every mode of transport – to make travel incredibly efficient and hassle-free.

Open data, in particular, is a critical component of this. Travellers want to plan and see changes to their route as they happen, allowing them to get from A to B (or door-to-door) with a minimum of fuss. Real-time delays, cancellations and support of first mile/last mile are an essential part of the mix.

It means opening up the way we operate to take a wider perspective on how we can provide better transportation services that make travel a seamless experience and offer the same flexibility as private car use.

Stepping up to the challenges

However, creating a genuine open ecosystem isn’t straightforward; there are many challenges to be considered. As the Arthur D. Little Urban Mobility Index shows, the average city has unleashed less than 50 per cent of its urban mobility potential. There’s clearly a great deal of work to do.

Firstly, it calls for a complete mindset shift. A wide range of players working together from across industry and technology as well as governments, cities, agencies, and citizen groups need to be involved. Many organisational stakeholders will be at varying stages in understanding the changing transport landscape and their role within it. Naturally, they’ll be cautious – particularly as it calls for greater collaboration and co-creation rather than competition. Sharing knowledge and best practice will feel difficult at first.

Secondly, transportation companies are used to ‘owning’ the customer. As trafikdage states, “Incumbent mobility suppliers feel a high degree of ownership to their customer base and are almost instinctively against a new party (the Maas provider or agent) in the value chain between the service offering and the consumer.” When it means changing business models or working with different partners to create better end-user services, it can be tough to move out of the comfortable status quo.

Thirdly, open access to data – including an open technology stack – are key to making this work. It requires real-time access to public transport timetables and availability of shared vehicles or other alternative modes of transportation such as scooters. Data on wheelchair and bike access for vehicles, as well as routes, is also important. These are only a handful of situations where data is required to provide an integrated multimodal travel experience.

The whitepaper Driving Positive Outcomes through Open Data Solutionsfor Mobility, by Dell et al states, “Ecosystems of individual and commercial developers will face additional challenges if datasets across multiple agencies are following different standards or represent fundamentally different information.”

This is a real sticking point. Standardised data formats (that are accurate and complete) are currently problematic for stakeholders. The whitepaper goes on to comment that not all issues are software related, but also resource and finance related ‘with the hardware infrastructure used to capture and process data’ potentially impeding both access and production of data.

Uncovering the benefits for all

Whilst there are many challenges, there are a great number of positives too. Open data, technology and platforms will allow organisations – and great minds – to come together, to solve problems cross-company and also across industries. Organisations such as MaaS Alliance, TravelSpirit Foundation and MobilityData are looking to encouraging broader adoption of data standards. This will unlock a great deal of value.

It will mean services can be adapted in as near real time as possible. As a concept paper by Open Mobility System, ‘The joint journey towards seamless mobility’ points out, “Bus operators, for instance, will be able to dynamically adapt routes and schedules based on where passengers wish to travel and when they prefer to do so.”

The paper goes on to state, “…cost allocation is also becoming easier and fairer with innovative payment solutions such as Pay-as-you-go and Pay-per-use. Hence, the global revenue potential of Seamless MaaS  to range between $1 trillion to more than $10 trillion by 2030.”

Integrating payment provisions, with secure data exchange, will create a smoother experience for the traveller too. It will also support information about revenue from services, which routes are the most cost-effective or lucrative as well as how differences in pricing may influence behaviour.

With an open mobility ecosystem and easier data access, we’ll be able to create a much better user-centric experience that focuses firmly on the traveller. When the mechanisms are in place to aggregate data and incorporate all the tools required so that people can plan, pay and organise every leg of their journey, then we can be sure that more people will opt for this route. It will be easier, provide the same freedoms as the car – and hopefully fewer traffic jams – and all controlled from their smartphone.

The way forward

Fostering an environment where the ecosystem can thrive will help MaaS – and mobility – reach their potential. As the earlier Dell et al research pointed out, “Open data not only inspires innovation, but also improves engagement, collaboration, and learning between government agencies and the public.” By operating openly and with transparency we can create a better transport system that opens up opportunities and rewards for all.

Thankfully, there is a great deal of good work taking place in the industry such as with the MaaS Alliance and TravelSpirit Foundation. We are delighted to be able to attend this week’s Open Mobility Conference in Brussels and excited to be taking part – also listen to thoughtleaders on how open mobility and data will help to solve some of the pressing issues and make transportation services better for everyone.

Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

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