The intricacies of MaaS: the alliance looking to shape the future of mobility

There’s no doubting that MaaS is a trending topic within the mobility industry today. Piia Karjalainen, Secretary General of the MaaS Alliance, spoke to Intelligent Transport’s Luke Antoniou about the reality of implementing MaaS in our cities.

The intricacies of MaaS: the alliance looking to shape the future of mobility

How did the MaaS Alliance come to be, and what initiatives and work is it involved in?

The MaaS Alliance was established in 2015, and we’ll be celebrating our fifth birthday in October this year. MaaS Alliance started as a European focused, small network. Today, we are a global community of 100 members from Europe but also Asia Pacific, North America, Emirates and more. As such, we are representing the most developed areas for Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). We have both public and private partners on board and this collaboration between sectors is crucial for making MaaS fully operational.

This year we are focusing on ticketing, hence our participation at Transport Ticketing Global earlier this year. We held a workshop in conjunction with this event, gathering ideas to see how we can support the public transport industry, and particularly the ticketing industry, to open up the closed loop ticketing systems to enable them to work in MaaS environment.

Another focus for the Alliance this year is sustainability. As we all know, the transport sector is facing urgent de-carbonisation targets. In December 2019 MaaS was recognised by the European Commission as part of the Green Deal, showing their belief in MaaS to deliver more sustainable transport. For us as an industry, it’s very important that we can now demonstrate that MaaS is actually contributing to smaller carbon footprint. We will provide training for our members and start developing tools, for service providers, but also cities, to assess, monitor and communicate the environmental performance of MaaS.

In December 2019 MaaS was recognised by the European Commission as part of the Green Deal, showing their belief in MaaS to deliver more sustainable transport

In 2017, we published a White Paper on our vision and approach to MaaS. The paper highlights  that MaaS has to be sustainable, inclusive, and based on collaboration between public and private partners in an open ecosystem. Now that we have more experience of – and insights into – MaaS, we really want to dive deeper and understand how we can achieve an ecosystem where all the different stakeholders benefit. We want to understand how the business models and governance should be set, so that we have a well-functioning MaaS market with the guarantee that the user has multiple choices to choose from and all stakeholders have right incentives and opportunities in place. Our set of recommendations will be published by the end of this year.

How far do you think the industry’ has come in terms of being able to meet those goals?

The whole concept of MaaS is still relatively new, and even the most advanced, or oldest, implementations are just couple of years old. So, we are still constantly learning. However, I think the most important factor in finding a sustainable business model is unlocking the money which is currently tied up in car ownership.

People like cars because they give you a sense of freedom, you can go anywhere, anytime. MaaS needs to deliver the same freedom of mobility. Therefore, MaaS, needs to provide a truly attractive offering that combines all other options; public transport, shared mobility, bike sharing, walking, cycling – whatever the user needs for the promise of freedom and easiness. This is also the key for success for the business model, because 75 per cent of the money, which is now circulated in the transport industry, is somehow related to car ownership model. In addition to vehicle, it’s maintenance, insurance and petrol that amount to a large sum of money being spent monthly and annually.

We keep hearing the word Mobility-as-a-Sustainable-Service. Do you think a rebrand of the concepts of MaaS is necessary to ensure sustainability is front and centre of the transition from car ownership to more shared modes?

I don’t think rebranding is needed; from the very beginning, MaaS has always been linked to a transition towards more sustainable mobility. That is also why we see the public transport as a core service in MaaS. It goes without saying that we also need new mobility modes and options to complement public transport where it is inefficient, underserving or non-existent. But also, businesswise, the only way to make MaaS a profitable business is to offer mass transit as a part of it.

What incentives could be offered, not just to encourage passengers to leave their cars, but for private and public operators to become part of the integrated system?

It is clear that revenue opportunities are needed to attract the operators to be part of MaaS. I believe that MaaS can build a basis for a renaissance of public transport by targeting those who are not yet regular riders of public transit. However, the offering needs to be comprehensive, flexible and seamless. MaaS is a complex service and in terms of customer experience, it is just as strong as its weakest link, and can be sensitive for bad weather, poor transfer facilities, delayed service or many other aspects. Getting business models, incentives and liabilities right for everyone in the value chain is very important in order to provide a supreme service for the end-users.

MaaS needs to provide a truly attractive offering that combines all other options; public transport, shared mobility, bike sharing, walking, cycling

Speaking of incentives more generally, there are quite complex financial subsidies allocated to different transport solutions and infrastructure. It would be interesting to test a system where subventions went directly to the end user. They could then decide which services they would like to use. These kinds of pilots have been executed within the healthcare sector in many countries, such as Finland. The user receives funding from the government and they then decide whether they want to use a private or public dentist, for example. In the future we could explore if similar options could be applied for  mobility. As we know, the taxation and company cars policies also play a significant role in encouraging or discouraging the MaaS solutions.

An interesting initiative going to this direction is the Belgian mobility budget, where employees who benefit from a company car today can now choose a mobility budget instead of a car and use the allocated budget also to use of varied sustainable mobility services. An access to a mix of various services can be easily provided through a MaaS app.

Do you see private companies becoming more willing to get involved as MaaS becomes more commonplace and more successful?

Any organisation, whether public or private, needs to get something practical out of a collaboration. And this is the key. There are some very good examples of well-functioning partnerships. We held our plenary meeting earlier this year in Antwerp and it was really interesting to see how the city has facilitated MaaS and successfully identified the roles of the city and companies in facilitating the development of the sector and providing solutions for customers. It was inspiring to see how they have achieved this in Antwerp just by supporting and being open to innovations, which has inevitably drawn companies there and now the city is becoming a thought leader for new mobility and smart mobility solutions.

Is there an argument that these smaller cities, Helsinki, Antwerp for instance, are achieving MaaS because they have fewer hurdles to overcome?

The size of the city might play a role, but moreover their success is related to the administrative culture and the vision which is coming from their political leaders. Places like Finland and Antwerp began MaaS with strong support from the highest political level, driven by “nothing to lose” mentality and open-mindedness.

You said earlier that MaaS is still a new concept. Is it possible to predict what might happen in the market?

To some extent, yes. The market is growing fast, estimated at a rate of between 25 to 35 per cent a year. I strongly believe that in two-three years we will have MaaS available in all European capitals.

However, there are still so many aspects to be considered. An interesting field yet quite unexplored, is the concept of combining MaaS and housing. Mobility could be paid for as part of your monthly rent. This is a new interesting offering and business model, combining the two biggest expenditure shares of households. But even more interestingly, it is in terms of its policy aspect as it provides the real-estate developers and urban planners new tools to plan and develop more optimised housing and mobility solutions.

Any organisation, whether public or private, needs to get something practical out of a collaboration

I also think that MaaS can be  a steppingstone towards mobility becoming part of the ‘experience’ economy. Looking ahead, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more bundled offerings and entries from the entertainment industry working with mobility services, filling the minutes a passenger spends commuting to work with media content. Automated and shared vehicles also have the potential to contribute to this element. If you don’t have to focus on driving, all of your senses are free to be ‘entertained’ by another medium.


Piia Karjalainen is Senior Manager at the MaaS Alliance in Brussels, Belgium. The MaaS Alliance is an international public-private partnership bringing together approximately 100 member organisations worldwide. She has previously worked at the European Parliament and the Finnish Ministry of Transport & Communications.