Imagine a future in which you start your journey to work by typing your destination into a smartphone app. By the time you walk out your door, the app has located the nearest available car2go vehicle, which you use to drive to the local rail station.
As you wait on the platform the app tells you when the next train will arrive to take you downtown. From there the app directs you to the closest bike share dock, where you pick up a bicycle and ride the last kilometre of your commute to the office.
You never have to swipe a fare card or fumble in your pocket for a token, instead the app bills the cost of all your travel to your credit card at the end of the month.
The experience is not yet a reality for transit users almost anywhere on earth, but according to some European experts this type of highly integrated, digitized on-demand system, which has been dubbed “mobility-as-a-service” or MAAS, could be the future of transportation. And cities need to prepare for it, or risk a radical destabilization of their transit systems.
Karen Vancluysen is the secretary general of Polis, a network of European cities and regional governments that works on sustainable transportation policy. In an interview while in town for the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Nov. 21 Transportation Summit, she said MAAS is the hottest topic in European transit circles right now.
“Basically you try to integrate all existing transport services into one package that you offer to the customer, in a seamless way, with integrated payment and ticketing,” said Vancluysen. She said future MAAS platforms could combine public transit, ride-sharing, taxis, bike sharing, and car rental services so that from the customer’s perspective “it doesn’t really matter anymore who are the different suppliers in the background.”
A policy paper Polis published in September outlined the potential benefits and risks of MAAS. It argued making transportation options more personalized and flexible could make car ownership less attractive and reduce automobile use, the main objective of any sustainable transportation scheme.
Linking newer transportation modes with the traditional network could also allow public transit lines operating inefficiently in low-demand areas to be replaced with less costly services like ride-sharing. Innisfil, Ont., a town of about 36,000 people outside of Barrie, is already experimenting with this idea by subsidizing Uber trips for its residents. The town’s mayor said it would be cheaper than buying buses.