Could Mobility-as-a-Service Come to Dublin?

On a balmy bank holiday Monday next to Dún Laoghaire DART station three dockless electronic BleeperBikes are locked to a stainless steel bicycle packing rack.

At present, if someone wanted to get a train and then hop on a dockless bike they’d have to coordinate it on two separate apps but in the future, Dublin could see all transport options streamlined onto one application.

In November 2019, Smart Dublin, an initiative of the four Dublin local authorities to engage with technology companies, published a report to recommend initiating Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) around the city.

MaaS, at its core is a digital interface, or a mobile app which aims to integrate all transport options, both public and private onto one platform.

Alan Murphy, Smart Dublin regional coordinator and lead on Smart Dublin’s project on Maas, describes MaaS as the “Netflix of transport” over a video call a fortnight ago, that’s focused on moving people away from privately owned modes of transport toward more sustainable forms of transport.

The purpose of MaaS, says Murphy, is to integrate these new private mobility services with public transport systems on one digital platform.

The tech industry, he says, is changing how people are moving around in the city through apps that offer shared bikes, shared car rides, shared scooters, real time information.

Applying MaaS to a Dublin context could see the integration of apps from Luas, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus, Dublin Bikes, as well as Real Time Information together on one application. This application facilitates journey planning, transport comparison, price information, and booking.

Building such a service, however, is not without its problems. Bringing many different stakeholders together with competing interests is one, says the National Transport Authority’s (NTA’s) head of ticketing Barry Dorgan.

Then there’s also the unintended changes that introducing new methods of transportation can have on urban development that need to be considered to ensure that cities are developed sustainably.

Getting from A to B

In the Smart Dublin report, entitled Recommendations to Initiate a MaaS Programme in Dublin some of the advantages of MaaS listed included door-to-door mobility (i.e. from home to work), a more efficient use of the current transport system, and a contribution to low-carbon transport.

The formation of a steering committee, in other words a group overseeing the creation of MaaS in Dublin, is now underway but juggling many different commercial and public transport providers is not going to be an easy task, says Dorgan.

It’s currently difficult to quantify whether such promises will be delivered as MaaS is a relatively new concept internationally, says Dorgan.

There are issues that have to be navigated in order to ensure MaaS works, which includes potential conflicts of interest from commercial firms and the public transport network, says Dorgan.

“If they’re going somewhere that’s served by public transport, well using public transport from NTA’s perspective would be a better choice. But from GoCar’s perspective, it might not be.

Potential Implications

Kate Pangbourne is a transport and mobilities geographer based out of the Institute for Transport Studies in Leeds University, and the lead author of an academic paper examining the unintended implications of MaaS.

“There’s a big mismatch between social goals, climate goals and private interest really and that can’t be overstated,” says Pangbourne.

Potential implications of MaaS, says Pangbourne, are being lost in the persuasive rhetoric surrounding it.

The paper, says Pangbourne, is based on an analysis of what promoters of MaaS say about the potential sustainability aspects of the and the resulting language that policy makers say as a result of this.

“What if it (Maas) generates more mobility overall in a system that is already finite because you can’t necessarily continue to build new infrastructure, what if it’s too expensive for all but a small percentage of people?” says Pangbourne.

Then there’s other questions such as potential impacts that MaaS might have on making it easier to travel in a private hire taxi compared to everything else, as well as impacts it might have on patterns of trip making in turn.

Pangbourne gives the example of how the cost of monthly packages for MaaS providers could potentially encourage more use of the app, to get more value from their subscriptions which has the potential for customers to opt for non-sustainable transportation over active ones such as walking or cycling.

“If you feel you’re not getting your money’s worth from a package you’ll use more of it,” says Pangbourne, “which is great for the service providers but isn’t necessarily great for society.”

Whim

Whim is one of the leading all-in-one Maas apps in Europe, having launched in Helsinki, Antwerp and the West Midlands in the United Kingdom. According to its website, Whim offers three different packages in each of the cities though prices vary in each country.

There is the pay as you go option, a basic monthly subscription that is €49 per month in Helsinki and £99 per month in West Midlands.

The basic plan offers 30 day public transport in both cities, and four €10 taxi rides within a 5km radius in Helsinki (it’s pay-per-ride in West Midlands), unlimited bike shares in Helsinki (but yet to be launched in West Midlands) and car rentals at a cost of €/£49 per day in both cities.

Then there’s the unlimited package which costs €499 per month in Helsinki and £350 per month in West Midlands, which includes unlimited public transport travel, 80 taxi trips, bike rental, and car rental.

Pangbourne says that there is a social injustice potential with these high monthly costs that can lock out lower income individuals from the app.

Another potential issue, says Pangbourne is the potential for regulatory capture. This is where the industry itself ends up being so close to the regulator, where the relationship is so intertwined that they end up shaping the regulation in their own interests, says Pangbourne.

There’s a danger here with MaaS, due to the fact that there needs to be such close consensus building between all the different authorities (private and public) in creating MaaS that this could potentially create the conditions for regulatory capture.

“The boundaries between these become quite blurred,” says Pangbourne.

The Mechanics of MaaS

Juggling both commercial transport providers and public transport providers on one application is not the only potential issue that needs to be worked through. There are also questions as to how revenue from customers will be divided up between the different transport bodies, how data is shared and issues of accessibility.

Currently, Murphy of Smart Dublin says that there’s a potential for MaaS to operate in Dublin either as a pay-as-you-go system or as a subscription service.

“It [MaaS]’s can also offer a one stop ticketing situation. For example, you’re not buying multiple tickets for multiple legs of a journey which may use multiple modes of transport,” says Murphy, imagining a commute that might consist of an e-bike, Dart and scooter.

“The challenge there as well is that if you put all these lumps of services together for one price, how do you divide up the money?” says Dorgan of the NTA. “Does each individual participant separately charge their user or does one person do it? From the business perspective, they want to get their money and they also want to know how much they’re going to get.”

The NTA is the favoured body to oversee the ticketing of any prospective MaaS application to ensure that MaaS develops along a publically led model, according to the report.

In the report, different operating models of MaaS were outlined, along with the characteristics and key risks of each.

They included a private-led model, a neutral model (one hosted on an open platform) and a public-led model.

The public-led model is the model recommended in Dublin as most suitable for the city. Advantages of this, according to the report, include giving public authorities the most control to define the rules of MaaS.

This means that existing public transport authorities remain custodians of the information about the private sector and retain control of the ticketing and that the digital platform is managed by a body such as the NTA.

This is a role Dorgan says that the NTA is interested in, and ensures that trust develops between the different parties involved especially when sensitive data is collected, such as payment information, door-to-door transport journeys, and transport preferences.

As MaaS has the potential to create a lot of data that would be commercially valuable, says Dorgan, there needs to be a mechanism by which the information gathered by the app is not shared between all parties equally.

“I would worry about some of these supposed benefits because a private organisation getting their hands on this data might see a means to commercialise that,” says Dorgan.

If the NTA were guarantors of the app, they’d have to be very clear where and what any data captured was being used for, says Dorgan, especially since this app would potentially gather such highly sensitive information as people’s door to door commute.

Next Steps

In March of this year, just before the country went into lockdown, Smart Dublin also held a workshop on MaaS in Mastercard’s City Possible offices in Sandyford.

Participants in the workshop, hosted by Smart Dublin and Mastercard’s CityPossible, were members from transport services in the city, including Dublin City Council, Irish Rail, National Transport Authority, Dublin Bus, FreeNow, GoCar, BleeperBikes etc, according to a follow up report on the workshop published in June.

Out of the workshop came a report for making MaaS a reality in Dublin. Within this, a roadmap was outlined that included the next steps involved in the project.

These steps included creating an executive steering committee to drive the project, a public consultation on future mobility, as well as a pilot in the next year or two.

“We hope that the next few months that that forum will be established and away we go,” says Murphy.

For Pangbourne, local authorities should proceed with caution. Local authorities, she says, are under considerable financial pressure and are looking for potential solutions that can solve problems such as congestion, reducing car use in a city, addressing climate impacts of transport in a low cost way.

“I fail to see how MaaS can do anything for active travel beyond incorporating a paid for bike hire,” says Pangbourne.

[Correction : This article was updated at 08:36 pm. A previous version of the article spelled Barry Dorgan’s name wrong. We apologise for the error.}

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Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at [email protected]

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