Catherine Kargas is a name that many will be familiar with in the mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) and sustainable mobility arena. Vice president of MARCON and chair for Electric Mobility Canada, Catherine is also a speaker and advisor to a number of organisations including the MaaS Alliance. We’re delighted that she agreed to spend time with us in what was a fascinating conversation from the challenges of getting people out of their vehicles to a future with AVs – and the role of MaaS in this process.
Catherine Kargas, Vice President – MARCON; Chair – Electric Mobility Canada
Can you tell us a little about your work in MaaS and sustainable mobility?
I’ve always worked in sustainable mobility, whether that be from a business model perspective or a propulsion technology perspective. At MARCON, we’ve helped transportation companies – including transit – for more than 20 years. During that time, we undertook probably the largest study anywhere in the world which created a roadmap to converting transit systems to hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Over the years, I’ve provided input into a range of organisations including leading the discussions at the first MaaS summit in Finland back in 2015. I’ve also been involved with the MaaS Alliance since its inception. I’m involved with two working groups: one on business models, the other taking a user perspective which included drafting the MaaS Users Bill of Rights.
Sustainable mobility has always been important to me; I believe in this. We have to do this right. How we move people and goods has an impact not only on our world today, but the world of our children tomorrow.
What are some of the challenges you’ve seen along the way?
At one of the first mobility-as-a-service offerings in Canada (which I helped to set up with a transit agency), we carried out some interesting research. It highlighted that local mobility providers didn’t offer the kind of services that attracted people to MaaS. It was a suburban area outside of Montréal. Many homes have two, three, four, even five cars in their driveways. The big challenge is figuring out how to apply MaaS outside of cities like London, Helsinki, or New York where mobility services are very well organised.
Another problem is that people don’t want to give up their vehicles. They also underestimate what it costs to own and operate them. That has been proven in multiple studies. In Canada, the average cost for an average vehicle is $10,000-$12,000 after tax every year. If you’ve got five vehicles in your driveway, that’s about $50,000-$60,000 a year. There are ongoing costs such as depreciation, insurance and plates, even if they’re not being used. We need to convince people of the true cost of their vehicles. It’s one of the biggest challenges MaaS faces.
How do we encourage people to not own cars?
We need to think about all the advantages of not owning a vehicle. If people recognised that $10,000 to $12,000 a year could be spent on a holiday, or whatever they want to invest in, it might give them a different perspective. Other advantages include being able to get from A to B without having to think about parking or buying insurance. That’s why I don’t own a car. Granted, I’m fortunate enough to live and work in the city. I use transit as much as possible with taxis, Ubers when I’m in a rush, and sometimes rideshares with friends. If you live in a city and truly want to do this, you can.
People say, ‘what if you have kids?’ When my 21-year-old was a child, I needed to take her to doctor’s appointments and do all the things that you do with a child. I used a lot of taxis but it still cost less than vehicle ownership. Today, I use apps like Google Maps and the Transit app in my city, which works really well. I use Uber or I grab a taxi if I’m on the street heading to a meeting.
Would I like a MaaS offering? Absolutely! I could open up my phone to see the various options for where I needed to go, along with how much each option would cost. I could choose the one that makes the most sense for me. It would be so simple! Make it seamless, easy, accessible, convenient – and with as little planning as possible – to enable users to drop vehicle ownership and just use MaaS: one app, one monthly payment, no hassles.
We hear a lot about issues around data. What are some of the problems you see?
We keep talking about first and last mile connectivity, but we’re not doing that because data is a challenge. Some companies don’t want to integrate through an aggregator because they’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money into creating a brand and relationship with that customer.
This means various business models need to be considered, along with back office and payment integration. We worked on a MaaS offering in a Canadian city where each mobility provider was a partner and shared in the profits. We don’t have all the answers but the technology disruption we’re all waiting for is our opportunity to ‘do’ mobility right – and I think we need to seize it.
How will MaaS impact intermediaries such as insurers?
At the MaaS Alliance, we’re looking at how insurance and MaaS can come together – the role it will play and the types of insurances offered, including service guarantees. In addition to traditional insurance for vehicles used to provide mobility services, user insurance could come in two forms.
Firstly, if the vehicle gets into an accident and I suffer bodily injury, can I create an insurance that covers me, regardless of the mode? A MaaS offering could communicate that information to users. Secondly, if you’re in a vehicle and forget your laptop, lose something or maybe if a taxi to take you to the airport doesn’t turn up and you miss your flight – what happens then? These are the things that we need to think about.
Waymo in the US made a deal with an insurance company called Trov and in France, MAIF has invested in a MaaS-type offering. Given all the changes taking place in mobility, the insurance world has to consider a product for MaaS and prepare to meet future client and user requirements. We need to blend insurance and mobility service offerings for the benefit of the user.
How can MaaS encourage greener travel?
For me, it’s not just MaaS – it’s electric MaaS. That’s where we need to be. Around the world, national and sub-national governments are increasingly looking at low or zero-emission zones, introducing zero-emission vehicle mandates. Many have set targets and objectives to eliminate fossil fuel vehicle sales in their jurisdictions over the coming years. MaaS needs to think about incorporating electrification within it to help reach ultimate societal goals.
In countries, such as Germany, where auto manufacturing is a key industry, we’re seeing sub-national governments stating they want electric propulsion to be the dominant technology to move people and goods. In the UK, there’s congestion zone taxing and an attempt to encourage people to use electric vehicles. By 2025, every Uber in the City of London is going to have electric propulsion technology, whether it’s a battery electric or plug-in hybrid. Eventually, all MaaS services will need to be propelled by electricity.
What part will autonomous vehicles play?
We need to get to MaaS before autonomous vehicles are commercially available on our roads. It gives us the opportunity to convince people to adopt more sustainable forms of mobility and to understand that vehicles need to be shared. That way, when we move from MaaS to autonomous MaaS (and ultimately electric autonomous MaaS), consumer habits and behaviours will have already changed.
If we switched from today’s context to all of a sudden having AVs available, a lot of the driving public would change their current vehicle and allow AVs to run their errands. This means in addition to regular driving, we’re also going to have zero occupancy miles and kilometres. That would be absolutely detrimental. Governments need to put the right regulations and policies in place to avoid such a “hellish” scenario.
Can you explain that a little further?
People use roads and infrastructure as if it costs nothing. In reality, it costs a lot. Everything is subsidised. People talk about subsidies for transit and certain incentives to encourage sustainable mobility, such as electric vehicle purchases. They focus on those because they’re easy to calculate and very visible. But the cost of driving is subsidised enormously.
From the statistics I’ve seen, the average driver pays about a quarter of what it actually costs to maintain all the infrastructure. We also have to keep in mind that fossil fuels are subsidised. It’s a double whammy. Governments have to figure out the exact costs – including direct and indirect subsidies – before AVs hit the road. Quantify the ‘real’ price per kilometre or mile once and for all.
Then we need a pay-per-use model that encourages sustainable mobility. Sharing a bus ride with 30 people will be far less expensive than driving a vehicle alone or zero occupancy movement. People should have the freedom to make decisions – including zero occupancy – but pay what it costs society to maintain the infrastructure. Of course, it needs to be fair to avoid burdening those who can’t afford it. Clarity and transparency around costs are going to be essential.
What’s being done right now to move towards this?
In Québec, the Ministry of Transport has already started to create a vision of how AVs would be introduced – they’ll have to be electric and at least, in the beginning, shared vehicles. Transit agencies, municipalities, sub-national and national governments around the world are looking at this because it’s going to be a major disruptor. We need to address how we prepare for this disruption and how we deal with the loss of revenues such as from parking charges.
The services we will – and won’t – require should be reconsidered too. Plus, how can we make sure the vehicles on our roads are able to pay? Any companies that want to offer AV ride-hailing or robo-taxi services will also have to know the rules and conditions under which they can operate. They’ll need to consider their business model and understand how much it’s going to cost to operate the vehicles. The regulatory environment will have an impact on those business models.
What’s the future for MaaS?
Governments and service providers can’t work in silos; they need to come together. We have to look at the entire functioning of a city to ensure we improve the quality of life of our citizens. If we’re successful in using fewer vehicles to move people around then we can transform a lot of the spaces reserved for parking and vehicle lanes. We need to revamp cities so that the citizen and his/her quality of life are the focus.
In the 20th century, our cities changed to accommodate the individual passenger vehicle. We need to move away from that towards more efficient forms of mobility, encouraging people to walk, bike and use more sustainable forms of transport. We need to create sustainable mobility hubs which could also include charging hubs for electric vehicles.
These are all things that we have to reimagine. If we had the opportunity to do this over again, what would our cities look like? Certainly not what they look like today. We need to work with the canvas we have right now and change it to reflect where we want to be.
About Catherine Kargas
With more than 30 years’ experience in consulting and 20 years’ experience in the transportation space, Catherine has acted as an advisor to a wide range of organisations as well as being a sought-after speaker on sustainable mobility, MaaS, electric vehicles and propulsion technologies. She brings great insight into the combined business model and technology perspective and has a wealth of experience at the crossroads between mobility and insurance.
She’s been instrumental within the MaaS Alliance and also started one of the first MaaS offerings in Canada. The chair of Electric Mobility Canada, the Laval Smart Mobility Incubator and Accelerator, and a founding member of the Transportation Evolution Institute, Catherine is passionate about finding solutions to many of the deep-seated transportation issues that society faces today.