Future mobility researcher, writer and thought leader, Beate Kubitz has a mission to see greater innovation in transport and to create accessible, inclusive and sustainable mobility as a service (MaaS). In our latest edition of Women in MaaS, Beate talks to us about the need for a more open, integrated system and how the changes in bus transport regulations could help to drive MaaS as well as some of the project trials that are laying the foundation for the future of mobility.
Beate Kubitz – Future Mobility Expert and Director of Policy & Communications for TravelSpirit Foundation
Where did your passion for MaaS stem from?
I had the opportunity to work for Carplus Bikeplus back in 2014. That drew together many interests as I’d always wanted to be part of the sustainability movement. It was a really interesting time in shared mobility. The car club sector was moving up a gear and becoming acquisition targets for much bigger automotive enterprises such as Avis, which bought Zipcar. We were also watching the ascendancy of Uber at the same time.
Using Government funding, we ran a pilot programme to measure the impact of car clubs. It was a really interesting three years. That was my introduction to MaaS. Since then, I’ve been invited to work for lots of different projects including the Open Data Institute, British Standards Institute and to be part of the TravelSpirit Foundation. I’ve also written the Annual Survey of Mobility as a Service which is published by Landor LINKS and now in its third year.
Do you work in transport? Whatever your role, you’re invited to share your views on MaaS in the latest Annual Survey of Mobility as a Service. Click here now to take part (closes Friday 16 August 2019).
How can MaaS become less proprietary and more open and integrated?
This is something that I’ve advocated for a long time and is critical to enable the sector to grow and innovate. For the past two years, the Annual Survey of Mobility as a Service has recorded great enthusiasm for the concept of MaaS from transport planners and people working to keep traffic moving, improve air quality and reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. We tend not to get responses from public transport operations – and those responses we do get are concerned about potential extra costs and whether their business model can withstand them. It’s hard to get through this impasse.
There’s a much bigger market if everything’s integrated but individual transport operators don’t see the benefits of integration. In the UK there are some real issues. Bus operators, for instance, are forbidden by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) from talking to each other about ticket prices, routes, and timetables because that’s seen as collusion. It’s a real anomaly. The CMA is there to protect the consumer but what would really benefit consumers is better-integrated transport. However, the unintended consequence of competition legislation is that it prevents integration.
What are the issues that are thwarting attempts to move MaaS and mobility forward?
Ticketing bodies are allowed to operate outside the scope of the legislation, providing area-wide ticketing, but it’s really difficult because each has its idiosyncrasies and public transport operators are driven by shareholder demand to turn a profit. They’re not philanthropic organisations. Business models often centre on keeping costs low and focusing on profitable services. That’s an issue. Your feeder service may be less profitable than your mainline services but it’s the feeder services that enables the seamless use of mainline services and expands the overall market. There’s a real business dilemma about who takes the hit on these services. There’s a business model problem, a legislation problem and a regulation problem.
You’ll see in London a very different UK model with open data and innovation at the platform and information, booking and payment provision levels, the layer above the regulated transport system. In deregulated, fragmented systems, companies are experimenting but not in a connected way. We see, for instance, on demand bus services in certain areas but they are not connected to the wider network. Transport for Greater Manchester, for instance, had to simulate a MaaS service to demonstrate how it would increase the overall market for transport provision and take people out of cars. It’s paradoxical. Although deregulation is expected to be better for innovation, so far the most regulated transport system has produced most innovation.
Does the public sector understand the consumer and MaaS well enough to encourage innovation?
In some places, definitely, in others less so. There are some real leaders looking at MaaS and at least understanding what the problems are. Transport is such a big system that it’s very hard to anticipate the unintended consequences. We can model things and say it will be great if we just run the streets like a taxi network with one single dispatcher; we’ll use far fewer vehicles and everyone will get to where they want to go. But it’s very hard to model human behaviour and find out when people will switch. You could have an amazing system and people still bring their cars into cities. Human behaviour has to be considered in the thought process.
Greater Manchester is trying to bring buses back into a regulated system which will be very interesting. You’ve got cities like Nottingham and Leicester that have more unified bus models. Nottingham has the Workplace Parking Levy, which has had a positive impact on car use and investment in the public transport system. Norwich has a fantastic car club facilitated by the city authorities. There is innovation. It’s just patchy; it’s politically fraught.
Different areas have very different attitudes to transport. If a bus network has gradually eroded over time you can’t turn around and say it’s going to be great from tomorrow. It will take people a long time to trust in that improvement enough to give up their vehicles. We’re looking at cultural change timescales rather than a momentary 180-degree turn.
That said, some innovations proved so excellent they were quickly adopted, like the Oyster card. If something is so easy it’s a no-brainer, then it really does affect change. It’s being smart enough to find your Oyster card equivalent, dedicated enough to keep changing things and realising that it’s incremental impacts in many cases – particularly when it’s about people giving up their vehicles.
Should public transport be the core of MaaS?
You’ve got to look at the capacity of city streets and think what’s the most rational way of getting people from A to B. It won’t work if everybody travels in a single vehicle even if it’s an autonomous vehicle. There are also demographic changes; younger people don’t want to take up driving in the numbers they used to. Even the automotive industry realises that between us we need to cater for everybody and for those people who are less interested in driving cars, there needs to be alternatives. Forms of higher capacity transport – buses, trains, trams and bicycles should all be the core of a mobility as a service offer.
Getting large-scale adoption hasn’t happened yet with MaaS. Where current small-scale trials exist, they show people have an appetite for easy-to-use transport on an account-based offer. A Manchester trial was based on a small cohort that represented some of their frequent travellers. They worked on what a service would need to have to make those people want to move away from car travel. That was public transport based with a demand-responsive bus service, some active travel, taxis and options to connect the journeys that couldn’t be made by public transport. It was a very positive response from people that trialled the system.
The ESP Group has NaviGoGo in Scotland which was created a couple of years ago to integrate transport. The issue was that bus companies wouldn’t take part in it, which meant that people weren’t able to trial it. The lack of enthusiasm in the bus industry has been on drag on MaaS in the UK. Rail is different. There’s already a mandate to provide APIs for fares and services. The Bus Services Act will mean that by the end of next year we should have APIs available for buses too.
What groundwork is already being laid to pave the way for MaaS and what impact will the Bus Services Act have?
Once we’ve got the Bus Services Act truly on stream I think things will probably change. The ArrivaClick demand responsive transport service discovered that people really like to watch their bus come towards them. That kind of learning about people’s attitudes and comfort zones in transport is interesting; you’re seeing cities looking for better real-time information that’s more comprehensive and intuitive and that fits with the digital age. People are used to seeing their Uber coming towards them on their app so it’s trying to ensure that public transport is at least as good as that if not better.
You’re seeing a few moves to provide much better information which could be used in a MaaS app as well. The West Midlands has the Swift card. West Yorkshire has their MCard. These initiatives enable cross-zone ticketing with bus and rail. They’re not perfect in the detail but they do at least offer some options to move towards zonal travel.
West Yorkshire Combined Authority made sure the back office of the MCard was able to handle car club bookings. What happens with most of the Oyster-style cards is that you prepay for your transport, but for car clubs you pay at the end; that’s a different accounting system. Being able to align prepay and postpay is tricky but they achieved that a couple of years ago. It’s initiatives like this that will lay the groundwork for MaaS and with the Bus Services Act levelling up the playing field, the digitisation of fare tables will be a massive step in the UK.
What’s your vision for the future of MaaS?
It’s hard to be prescriptive because rural and urban areas need different solutions. London gets a lot of MaaS and new innovative mobility trials because it’s got market density, but it would be really useful to see some edge cases. Semirural and rural areas need to have this technology opened up to them. That’s where people can be excluded from the transport network.
We’ve also got air quality issues even in rural areas. Transport poverty means that people own cars they can ill afford and often drive older, more polluting vehicles. The problem is exacerbated when people bring their cars – possibly from quite far afield – into cities. Solutions should extend far enough to allow people from outer suburbs and surrounding areas to use MaaS. Otherwise, it’s confined to people who live in city centres, who aren’t necessarily the people who most need to use it.
How can we encourage more trials in rural areas?
That’s where more skills and people who have sector knowledge are required because local councils need to be able to see the potential. You also need funding, particularly for trials that aren’t necessarily going to be commercially viable immediately. This is a socially important service and yet it’s commercial so it’s tricky to find that balance – but we do need to find it.
We’ve got an issue where venture capital, and even government investment, run in three-year cycles. But people make travel decisions in response to life events which could be much more widely spaced out such as kids going to school, retiring or getting a new job. These prompt people to reassess their travel behaviour and that’s what we’re contending with.
Another problem is that we need to decarbonise much more quickly. Trialling pilot projects faster requires funding to enable that to happen and for people to have the comfort that a) the services will be there in the long term and b) that the customers will be there in the long term.
What would you say to other women thinking of working in the sector?
Do it. I wake up and think transport all day, every day which is something I didn’t think I’d be doing five years ago. It’s incredibly intellectually interesting but also it’s about understanding stories, understanding how people behave and what they’re thinking about when they do things. It’s neither an engineering issue or a software issue; it’s a combination of those and human behaviour. It takes in a lot of different sectors. I work with psychologists, people who do mapping; a whole range of skills need to be brought to bear on mobility as a service. It’s very diverse – and it needs to be – otherwise it won’t create something that enables us to travel happily and sustainably.
About Beate Kubitz
Beate’s passion for MaaS started in 2014 whilst working for Carplus Bikeplus. Before this, she was involved with campaigning organisations including Mental Health Media and Amnesty International. Having always wanted to be part of the sustainability movement, Beate also set up her own knitwear brand called Makepiece.
Today, alongside her work with the TravelSpirit Foundation, she’s involved with many different future mobility projects including the Annual Survey of Mobility as a Service, published by Landor Links. A keen cyclist, particularly in London, she also loves mountain biking and the outdoors.