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How MaaS will change fleets forever

A tech-led mobility revolution is about to overtake the planet, changing everything we think we know about personal transportation. Craig Thomas assesses how business can take advantage of the Mobility as a Service concept.

Autonomous cars stand to transform private and business travel.

Technology has transformed society so radically in the last couple of decades, we’re now living in the science fiction predicted in our youths. Video-calling on a mobile phone, using the likes of Skype and FaceTime, was barely conceivable as a reality back in the 70s and 80s, as was having access to 40 million songs – almost the entire history of recorded musical output – in your pocket from apps such as Spotify.

Autonomous cars are of a similar order. We’re on the cusp of self-driving technology becoming a reality and, when that happens, the entire mobility landscape will change, with Mobility as a Service (MaaS) becoming the way we consider our journeys.

MaaS is very much a concept born from the technological progress that we’ve seen in the last 20 years (and which will continue over the coming decades). It relies on a digital platform that will integrate journey planning, the booking of our chosen transport options, electronic ticketing and payment, and it will work across every mode of transportation, public and private, from bicycles to aeroplanes. Apps on our smartphones will enable us to plan and book all the tickets for trips that take us from the front doors of our homes or workplaces to the front doors of wherever we need to go, be it for work or leisure purposes.

These apps will answer the question of how best to move an individual user to where they want to, doing so using constantly updated real-time information, and taking into account the user’s own preferences. For example, some users will prioritise time and convenience over cost, while others will look for the cheapest way to travel, or the trip that will have the lowest possible carbon footprint. Payment for all these journeys will be seamless, too, so MaaS will move all of us toward a system of mobility that will be centred on the user.

It will also recalibrate our understanding of how we use vehicles, with a shift away from the concept of personal ownership of individually owned cars and non-integrated means of transportation, moving towards the use of more integrated multimodal mobility solutions, which are consumed as services.

The revolution is already underway. Members of car sharing schemes globally, for example, increased from 350,000 in 2006 to five million in 2014, and it’s projected to rise to 23 million by 2024. Bike sharing has also exploded in the last decade, with over a thousand schemes now in operation in 50 countries. Then there are ride-hailing services such as Uber, which now has a foothold in over 500 cities across 70 countries.

And autonomous cars will undoubtedly up the ante and be embraced by the travelling public, in two ways, to borrow from Ernest Hemmingway: gradually and then suddenly. Accounting and professional services giant Deloitte estimates that by 2040, up to 80% of passenger miles travelled in urban areas could be undertaken in shared autonomous vehicles.

An International Transport Forum report from 2015 examined the changes that might result from the large-scale uptake of a shared and self-driving fleet of vehicles in a mid-sized European city, taking the Portuguese capital of Lisbon as a case study. Using two different autonomous concepts – a TaxiBot that could be shared by several passengers and single-passenger AutoVots – the ITF found that the same mobility could be delivered with just 10% of the current car parc. This is despite the overall volume of car traffic increasing by 6%, with the AutoVots replacing high-capacity public transport and increasing the number of car-kilometres travelled by 89%. Fleets of self-driving vehicles will also largely eliminate the need for on-street parking, freeing up 20% of the kerb-to-kerb street space in a city: 80% of off-street parking could also be reallocated to other uses of the land.

So with autonomous cars and taxis, self-driving buses, networks of bicycles, etc all aiding mobility in the future, it’s not just individual consumers that will benefit: business travellers will be able to take advantage too (as will logistics operations, especially last-mile deliveries in cities, thanks to road space that has been freed up).

Research company Juniper anticipates that commuters who use MaaS systems could shave an average of 37% off their journey time, which works out at 67 minutes per day for drivers and 61 minutes per day across all modes of transport. Commuters who shift from using a private vehicle to MaaS will see their average commute time fall to 34 minutes a day, thanks to being able to avoid congestion and taking advantage of higher vehicle occupancy rates. Employees could therefore arrive at work earlier and, if they travel in shared driverless vehicles, use their travel time more productively than if they were sitting stressed, behind the wheel of a car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Jupiter also estimates that if all the time saved in shorter commutes was instead used for business activities, there could be a global increase of $2.2 trillion (£1.7tn) in business productivity: even if just a third of the recovered time was used for work purposes, implementing MaaS could generate an additional $733 billion (£574bn) globally.

And those are just the benefits accruing from commuting workers: expand that to fleet operations and it’s easy to see how companies can profit from adopting MaaS.

Matt Dale, consultancy services manager at ALD, explains how companies are starting to consider mobility in the wider sense. “People are thinking about autonomous vehicles and how they can fit into the future. It’s a really broad mobility experience that doesn’t just look at the car. It’s looking at the other ways, the other things we need to be thinking about at the moment, with regards to transport.”

Fleet management as we have known it will inevitably change, under the influence of MaaS, to become more of a mobility management function. Companies will have to adapt and adopt new fleet strategies, to meet the new challenges of a new era of transportation. Fleet managers will have to become mobility managers, with their focus shifting from a more traditional asset management role to one of looking at a wider range of transport and mobility options.

This function will be aided considerably by easier access to data, giving mobility managers more control over costs. For example, companies can set monthly travel budgets in advance for individual employees or departments of the company. Apps on smartphones can collect data and share it with an admin backend system, which in turn will allow the creation of itemised expense reports that are available to the employee, department head, mobility manager and finance department.

There are other savings, too. Replacing fleets of company vehicles – with all their associated ownership costs – with car-sharing and ride-sharing services, and public transit services, also saves companies money in parking fees, real estate for car parks, etc.

At the same time, mobility managers will be able to collaborate more with their colleagues, to maximise the possibilities of new mobility solutions – and allowing them to work, and travel, more flexibly. As Adrian Bewley, director of business mobility at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, explains: “Companies are realising they need to harness the benefits of enabling employees to consider different types of travel options, while ensuring they don’t result in unnecessary cost inflation or risk.

“Employees are making more decisions around travel and, at the same time, companies are realising that mobility options have exploded. In this changing landscape, companies need to review travel policies, as well as their tools for accessing and assessing available transport choices, to make sure they are fit for purpose.

“Data is essential to identify the best choice in multi-modal journeys, as inappropriate choices could lead to costs escalating exponentially, or to unforeseen risks. Take a simple scenario: an employee has a morning meeting off-site in the opposite direction to their place of work. Does it make sense for them to come into the office just to pick up a car pool vehicle, or should they be empowered to pick up an approved vehicle from a location that is most convenient to them?

“We’re working together with our customers to model scenarios and solutions, combining their data with ours to better understand the variables of when, where, how and why their employees travel, and therefore which solutions the employer should be offering.”

So not only could business travel be faster, easier and cheaper for corporate users, but their employees can also feel more involved in the choice of their mobility solutions, improving their quality of life and making them happier and more productive.

The key to adoption of MaaS by corporate users is the technology, though – and that’s not here yet.

Indeed, MaaS projects are still in their infancy. There have a been a number of pilot programmes for consumers (the likes of UbiGo in Gothenburg, Qixxit and Moovel in Germany, Beeline in Singapore and SMILE in Vienna) and the Europe-wide MaaS Alliance – a public-private partnership that is aiming to create the foundations for a common approach to MaaS, unlocking the economies of scale needed for successful implementation and take-up of MaaS in Europe and beyond – is also leading the way in thinking about society’s adoption of this new mobility paradigm. Working MaaS systems are a rarity, however, with Whim the one platform that stands out as offering a vision of what might be possible.

Originating in Helsinki, Finland, Whim has been designed to offer an alternative to car ownership, with customers being able to arrange travel on buses, public bikes, trains, taxis and hire cars via a single smartphone app. The platform was also launched in Birmingham earlier this year, where subscribers can pay £99 a month for unlimited travel on public transport, or £349 for unlimited use of public transport, taxis, bikes and car hire.

It’s still early days yet, though – especially when it comes to adoption by fleet users. Vicky Outram, product manager at Arval, tells us: “We’d stress that right now, for the vast majority of employers, adoption of mobility solutions is still relatively low. The company car has retained its popularity over decades because of its relatively low cost, enormous journey flexibility and popularity with employees. However, demand for more flexible options is growing and so it’s essential that companies like ourselves can provide a range of options to customers.”

Charles Henday, a partner at CPC Project Services, a consultancy that has worked on a number of major transport programmes, adds: “There are a number of generations of technological advance before we get to [wider MaaS adoption], which I think will become available far more readily and sooner than 20 or 15 or even 10 years.

“I think in a few years’ time, we’ll see these apps evolving. There’re already plenty around at the moment, but they relate to a single mode. It’s putting all that data together to advise a driver on the best time to leave his car and use another transport mode if he’s on the way into the city.

“We’re seeing these data and app and technological advances coming quite quickly, because it’s only a question of combining that data and those modes together, and you’re starting to provide that enhanced information to the consumer. I would imagine there are app developers out there that can already do this: it’s just a question of getting around to providing that. I think we’ll see those quite quickly in the next couple of years, if there might not be some already out there that I’m not familiar with. I don’t think there’s too much holding that back and I’m pretty sure the demand is there already.”

The technology that will enable MaaS to become a reality is definitely advancing rapidly. Car manufacturers are investing huge amounts of R&D money on developing autonomous cars – Audi is promising that the forthcoming e-tron electric car will have Level 3 self-driving capabilities – and companies such as MaaS Global (which owns Whim) are well on the way to launching the kind of multi-modal platform that will give fleet users and business travellers the sort of flexibility and freedom that will bring so many benefits.

But such technology also relies on legislation and government policies to allow it to take hold and flourish. In the UK, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee has been assessing MaaS over the last year, taking written and oral submissions from a wide range of private companies, local authorities, academia and trade bodies such as the BVRLA and ACFO. The committee is now drawing up a report, which is scheduled to be published by the end of 2018 (Brexit-related parliamentary time permitting).

Lilian Greenwood, chair of the committee, said at the launch of the inquiry: “Integrating urban transport modes into a single, integrated MaaS app represents a really exciting opportunity to transform how we get around in cities.

“An integrated MaaS app can create a single, seamless journey, cutting out the hassle of separate ticketing for different legs of a journey. The app can plan and book your whole journey from door to door in the most efficient way possible, using real-time service data across all the transport modes in the city. This could substantially reduce reliance on the private car; ease congestion; increase productivity; and lead to more pleasant, healthier cities with better air quality.

“Integrated MaaS is a much talked-about concept, but it is not generally well understood. We want to increase public understanding; find out if the bold claims are justified; and, if they are, recommend ways of overcoming some of the barriers to implementation in the UK.”

The report will also be a useful starting point for governmental adoption of MaaS-friendly policies. ACFO chairman John Pryor would like the Government to consider helping companies adopt MaaS: “Business mobility or Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is being much talked about across the corporate sector. Mobility credit is focused on vehicle usage and not ownership. Employees all have different preferences when it comes to the way they travel, particularly millennials and the so-called Generation Y. Whether it’s by train, bus, taxi or car, the company car is not always the best solution for everyone.

“Employers and employees need flexibility, and the UK government should give consideration to introducing a mobility allowance. Mobility credit is seen as an additional employee benefit, with staff having the ability to access a form of transport to suit individual journey requirements. France already operates a corporate mobility credit scheme, which offers tax advantages to both companies and their employees. Amid political pressures and a host of other issues, including growing urbanisation, climate change, traffic congestion and changing behaviours and values, the government should give consideration as to how such a scheme could operate in the UK.”

Mobility as a Service is undoubtedly a concept whose time is coming – if it isn’t already here. Businesses will be in the vanguard of the adoption of these new platforms, as they offer considerable flexibility and potentially significant cost savings.

And it will also undoubtedly change corporate life in ways that are as unimaginable now as using a small portable phone to talk face-to-face with friends and family right across the world was, just a few short decades ago.

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Craig Thomas

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