MaaS and smart communities expert, Crissy Ditmore, has devoted 15 years to the transportation industry in the hopes of ensuring technology is used for the public good. A self-confessed relationship builder and mobility evangelist, we’re delighted Crissy took time out of her schedule to give us her take on Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and how it can be used to develop a sustainable future for everyone.
Crissy Ditmore, Director of Strategy at Cubic Transportation Systems
How did you become involved in the mobility space?
I’ve been in mobility for 15 years, working in many aspects of the transportation industry. MaaS is something that’s only starting to gain acknowledgement and momentum, even though I’ve been preaching it since my thesis project. Think of MaaS as a newer iteration of transportation demand management which is far too focused on one part of the solution – that’s what makes MaaS so appealing and a natural progression professionally.
In my early career, I had the opportunity to attend community meetings where people talked about proposed changes to their community and commuting route – for example, to the bus program and how that affects ‘Rosemary’ in her ability to get to and from the doctor. It affected these people so much they came and sat through five-hour meetings for their chance to testify. It made for some long nights, but it gave me a real appreciation for what people have to go through to get around. All of those voices need to be part of any mobility solution, and what works in one region may not make sense everywhere.
How do we ensure greater accessibility for all?
I sat on a panel during a conference recently for the automotive industry and one of the last questions was: what technology is needed to make a city truly smart? The fact is, technology is a means to an end. We need to ask people who live in those cities what they need. How “smart” would we be if we all had that conversation together?
What do the veteran, mental health and senior communities, for example, see as the solution that makes the most sense to them? We shouldn’t be dictating what this cohesive network of services looks like. We have to get back to one-on-one conversations with humanity to understand how to best address the very specific needs of a regional area.
The private sector could go out into communities to have these conversations. There are public forums that already exist; it’s just not been part of the solution framework for the industry for a while. Many organisations develop solutions believing they know what people want without asking them. What’s missing in business development is experience with empathy in a way that’s meaningful to the people we build solutions for.
Why is the MaaS concept important to the public sector?
MaaS can help the public sector reclaim their relevance, define public good and be the protector of it. That will happen through a shift in how we approach policy. Government can’t solve everything but an understanding of how to work within the government framework will bridge that public-private sector gap that’s required in a MaaS solution.
A fantastic example is the Finnish Transport Code. It shows how government entities can level the playing field of all operators in a region to make a difference for the mobility ecosystem. Policy change and coordination are going to happen bottom-up and you’re going to have some transformational leaders that are charging ahead with what the public expects from them which in turn will improve how citizens interact with their environment.
Even though they are government employees, they’re acting much more like the private sector from an innovation and agility standpoint. A good example is the way LA Metro approaches MaaS through their TAP program. They’re setting standards for how to interact with their public transit framework to encourage integration with the private sector and mobility providers.
At the same time, the sister agency at LADOT introduced the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) as the first step in this shared data framework. It’s the creation of a standard that can lead to an open, interoperable framework with a set of required data sharing components. It has been transformative for how we think about data. The examples these entities are setting in their shared region is exactly the kind of multi-entity leadership that will be required to progress a MaaS framework. Integrated partnerships are really what MaaS will be in the end.
“Integrated partnerships are really what MaaS will be in the end.”
Are lessons learned being shared amongst other public sector agencies?
Seleta Reynolds, general manager for LADOT, introduced the MDS and then took it nationally to a wider audience. Thirty cities in North America are part of that standard under the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF). The OMF wants to see how that standard can be used for different modes because it was originally for scooter sharing. That’s still the question: what is the right balance of consumer privacy versus using that data to enhance the public good.
Other entities are developing their own standards, such as SAE and several universities, with varying levels of privacy and confidentiality. The fact they’re starting down that path is positive. It’s very much a start-up mentality; get the first version out and iterate.
Many government entities are even hiring directly from the private sector, such as Chief Information Officers that may not be familiar with transportation. Hiring professionals outside of the transportation industry introduces new ways of thinking and is another reason why it’s becoming more important to understand policy. When you come from outside industries, you have to understand why certain things take longer or from an equity standpoint why certain requirements are necessary.
How can MaaS work regardless of where people live?
There are many people in this industry who focus entirely on city services and city life and bringing this dense, urban core together. That’s an important part of the solution as it allows city dwellers to have a better quality of life – but it’s only a part because there’s a lot of people we’d leave behind if we settled for that.
What has been exciting for me in MaaS is that it doesn’t matter whether you live in a suburb, city or rural environment. This shift means we can create a toolkit of services that work differently in different areas, allowing people to make personal choices and still have an enhanced quality of life while improving the environment. It’s not a system of services that requires a person to move to participate in that mobility future – we don’t have the right to say which choice is best.
“If we dictate what MaaS looks like for people, then we’ve overstepped our boundaries.”
If we dictate what MaaS looks like for people, then we’ve overstepped our boundaries. People should have individual freedom of choice and our job is to create solutions so we make that happen. If we don’t create MaaS that scales – regardless of population size or location – then we’ve failed in the opportunity this mobility revolution has given us.
What role do services like Uber and Lyft play in this future?
The entrance of Uber saw a shift in people’s expectations of how immediate their mobility could be and what was acceptable. If I have to make an appointment for a para-transit service three days in advance and then Uber comes along, why wouldn’t I have that same level of on-the-spot treatment everybody else has? It took quite a while for transit agencies to understand the shift was permanent; private mobility providers are an important part of solving mobility for all.
“This isn’t an us-versus-them mentality.”
This isn’t an us-versus-them mentality. Government that provides transit can use this time to double down on the service it does best, to ensure equity and that environmental goals are met. They can use their status with private entities, not just to bring them into the fold and make them an extension of their own services, but to guide them to meet some of those public good goals.
Hopefully, this will avoid the trauma that happened with the early private providers that focused on more affluent needs. In many cases private entities are starting to offer more equity-driven solutions because they realise that’s a big business opportunity for them to expand their user base. Government is starting to help the private sector understand how to come together to work to solve community needs together.
Are you seeing new business models emerging as a result of these changes?
There’s likely to be continuing iterations of the MaaS business model and we’ve started to see that; Whim being the first of the subscription services. You see that in Lyft and Uber in their walled garden approach to service provision, having expanded into providing transit information too. A MaaS business model will continue to be provided, likely by the private sector; there may be some public sector entities that put together a package of services. Those two can live side-by-side.
But there’s still not a wholly combined framework of everything that’s in an area which leads to what we call the MaaS Operating Model. This is likely to be how the public sector approaches a MaaS solution. It’s an interoperable framework with a defined level of data-sharing that meets a targeted policy goal in favour of the public good. That’s the discussion that’s been happening over the past year. We’re starting to move away from a pure focus on business models to an operating model in which you can have several of those business models as part of that interoperable framework.
It’s about creating solutions that meet people’s needs including health and physical limitations. It’s also how you ensure tourists – who aren’t everyday users – can access a package of services without a monthly subscription and that the elderly remain integrated with society. It’s that robustness to meets all those other needs in addition to a standard business model.
What advice would you give to other women thinking of a career in MaaS?
It’s an infinitely flexible future. What I like about my career is that it has gone in a million different directions. Each of those times, you make connections with people that carry on throughout your career because once people are in this industry, very few leave. They just move from one company, transit agency or government to another. Over time, the people you’ve worked with previously are going to inevitably cross your path again.
My advice is ‘go for it’! You’re certainly not going to regret doing good things for people and having a career that you can be proud of the solution set. Also, be authentic; everything you say and do is a reflection of you. Treat people with kindness; be fair; be honest, because you’ll want to continue those relationships in the future.
Has there been one person who has had the most impact on your career?
Yes, his name is Jon Martz, director of government affairs for Enterprise Rideshare. I worked with him at my very first company; he taught me the importance of understanding public policy. At the time I was a project manager which had nothing to do with policy. It was a lot of work outside business hours without pay.
However, when my project – which was funded by government grants – required expansion, I knew how to approach regional entities under an Obama-era grant application. His guidance showed me how important it is to understand all of the different ways to approach a problem.
If you’re working alongside the public sector, understanding their requirements is just as important as understanding yours because you can help them get to the end goal faster. That’s why when this shift in mobility came along, I was ready for it and already an expert in something very relevant to a lot of people. I credit that foresight to his leadership.
About Crissy Ditmore
Crissy has worked in transportation policy for 15 years, bringing a broader perspective to the sector and emphasizing the importance of the greater good. You’ll often find Crissy speaking at industry events discussing MaaS, smart cities, modern payment solutions and connected/autonomous vehicles.
When she’s not working Crissy loves spending time with her husband, sharing their passion for urban farming and beekeeping, part of a conscious effort to make the most fulfilling use of their time at home and selling their amazing honey!