Filed Under: Retail and Transit, Transit and Travel

Mobility policy: the way forward is unclear

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We’ve been thinking about Mobility as a Service (MaaS) for some time. I remember suggesting its consideration in a meeting with a UK sub-national transport body (STB) in 2016 and the question being ‘Isn’t MaaS just a buzz-word?’ In December 2018, the UK Government Office for Science issued a review, ‘MaaS in the UK: Change and its implications’. It was commissioned as part of the UK government’s Foresight Future of Mobility project.

While the review contains the usual disclaimer, ‘this document is not a statement of government policy’, there is actually a lot of change happening in transit-related policy, based around the opportunities presented by technology and the need to provide convenient services for the travelling public, while limiting the impact on the environment. The Williams Rail Review was launched by the Department for Transport in 2018, taking evidence through 2019, with a view to implementation starting in 2020. Its purpose is to put passengers at the heart of the railway of the future, while taking into account the needs of operators and the taxpayer.

The Rail Delivery Group has responded to the Williams review. They report that eight out of ten people feel the current system should be overhauled, while nine out of ten are in favour of smart or electronic ticketing. They also describe the need to include a range of flexible options to support passenger choice. Integrated and Smart Ticketing offers a way of achieving these goals, incorporating flexibility to accommodate a variety of services in a format that is convenient for passengers.

The Rail Delivery Group itself has undertaken a consultation on simplification of fares, resulting in the publication of the ‘Easier Fares for All’ report. They received around 20,000 responses to the consultation, with very strong support for simplification of fare structures. At present, there is a huge variety of fare products available, which means that a passenger can never be sure of getting best value. The priorities highlighted by responses to the consultation were value for money, fair pricing, simplicity, flexibility and assurance. MaaS is specifically mentioned as a goal in the report, to be achieved by simplification of fare structures and implementation of appropriate technologies. Account-based ticketing, to include capping and integration with other modes of transport such as buses and trams, was also considered desirable.

Even before all this, the UK government had policies in place that would seem to be ideal for the encouragement of MaaS implementations. These included:

  • Department for Transport:
    • MaaS could offer an opportunity to support the DfT’s high-level policy commitments, namely: Boosting economic growth and opportunity, Building a One Nation Britain, Improving journeys, and Safe, Secure and Sustainable Transport. Specifically, MaaS would offer a greater level of integration between modes of transport and enable passengers to have confidence in choosing a variety of different options for their journey. This could encourage individuals to choose public transport more often, promoting social cohesion and sustainability.
    • The DfT’s Single Departmental Plan (SDP) 2015-2020 outlines the progress made in supporting the Department’s high-level policy commitments. The SDP’s commitments cross a range of transport sector delivery areas and illustrate DfT’s engagement in many initiatives that support the development of MaaS, These include capping of fares, introduction of more flexible part-time season tickets, focusing on accessibility to enable people with disabilities to have confidence in public transport provision.
  • Department of Health:
    • To support active lifestyle objectives – perhaps through engaging the travel behaviour change capabilities of MaaS. This is typified by initiatives by TfL to encourage people to walk or cycle rather than taking the tube.
    • Reducing respiratory and air quality related health issues – perhaps through engaging with MaaS Providers to manage travel patterns in areas with poor air quality. This could include managing the types and numbers of vehicles permitted in an area. This can be achieved in a number of ways, such as using bus lanes to promote public transport and giving low emissions vehicles exemptions to congestion charging.
  • Department for Business, Innovation and Skills:
    • Supporting innovation and growth, particularly in the sharing economy. This could include car sharing, ride sharing and other innovative approaches to transport and ticketing.
    • Supporting new markets for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV). This might include provision of autonomous vehicles for use by visitors within a tourist area or more effective monitoring of the use of hire cars in and around airports.

At the time of writing, the government has tabled secondary legislation, expected to pass very shortly, to mandate net-zero carbon emissions throughout the economy by 2050. MaaS is expected to be a key enabler in reaching this goal by offering a range of more convenient alternatives to individual passenger car journeys. These might include ride sharing, car sharing, or simply bus and train services that are better tailored to local needs. Paying for a recharge of electric vehicle at (say) a park and ride centre, potentially at a discount to that available commercially in city centre car parks might be considered.

The UK government has described its support for transformation in the area of mobility in its paper “Future of mobility: urban strategy”. It promotes safe and secure mobility services designed around the needs of the individual, which prioritise active travel such as walking and cycling. It also highlights the key role of mass transit, with the aim of reducing congestion and emissions. Creative use of published data is seen as an important tool in managing an integrated mobility ecosystem.

The MaaS Alliance and UK Transport Systems Catapult commissioned a survey in spring 2017 to generate data on the critical regulatory enablers and barriers for the development and full deployment of MaaS. It is worth noting that policy targets on emissions are likely to have a positive effect on MaaS market developments.

A recent report by the House of Commons Transport Committee concluded:

The key choices the Government can make are on its approach to the governance around MaaS in the areas of incentivising data sharing; introducing a regulatory framework such as a code of conduct and ensuring passenger rights are protected.

Finland was the first country to regulate to facilitate the pre-conditions necessary for MaaS. Their Act on Transport Services (also known as the Transport Code) was adopted in April 2017. All provisions in the Act entered into force by July 2018. It promotes customer-oriented, market-based transport services on a competitive basis. It aims to enable new technologies and digitalisation into the transport sector. It obliges transport operators to make essential data available and provides for the interoperability of ticketing and payment systems. The presentation in January at TTG19 from Minna Soininen, Director of the Finnish Public Transport Association, was less than glowing about the progress to date since regulation, indicating that the way forward is still not clear.

A lot has changed since our STB meeting in 2016. Our recent work with another STB uncovered a shift in thinking. A facilitation role is being sought and there is openness to forming partnerships with a wide range of mobility providers. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the future of MaaS and therefore future policy makers are looking at how to better deal with uncertainty and avoid committing too strongly to the early adopters.

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