In a future with fewer cars on the roads, public transport systems will need to be well integrated to deal with an influx of users. Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) will be a strong enabler in changing how people move between places, but what does good MaaS look like, how can it be governed and what powers will local authorities need to enable it?
In a transport utopia, cars are not king. Congestion is a thing of the past, with public transport and multi-modal options the first choice for users, safe passage for cyclists and pedestrians, while zero-emission buses and trams deliver people to the supermarket, school, and the park. Rural communities are served by on-demand buses and e-bikes that take them to their local amenities, or to the nearest station that offers high-speed transportation across the country. This isn’t to say cars won’t have a place, of course they will. But, with an integrated, efficient, accessible, and clean public transport system, cars won’t have to be many people’s first choice, in fact it will be more convenient not to drive.
Cars currently account for 40% of all emissions from transport, so the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is vital for ensuring we achieve net zero. The UK government’s plan to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2030, and all non zero-emission cars by 2035, will drive the transition. But EVs won’t stop congestion, or the particulate matter that flies from tyres and brakes. The modal shift toward public transport is, therefore, not irrelevant just because we have EVs. The government’s adviser, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), recommends that 97% of new car sales are EVs by 2030, but existing data suggests the UK is not guaranteed to hit this target. By encouraging more travellers to choose public transport, car usage will fall sooner, securing emissions reductions in line with the CCC’s recommendation.
Aside from scaling up investment in public transport and infrastructure for walking and cycling, Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) will be a strong enabler in changing how we move between places. This is defined as a “digital interface to source and manage the provision of a transport-related service that meets the mobility requirements of a customer”, according to the Transport Systems Catapult. Essentially, it means travellers can book, pay for and plan journeys involving multiple transport modes in one central place, making travel easy and seamless. It’s a shift away from the existing system, which generally sees private and public transport operating independently, and different modes of public transport poorly integrated.
Currently, many forms of MaaS are used across the UK, such as Transport for London’s Oyster Cards, and Citymapper’s route planning service; the former offers integrated payment across different transport modes, while the latter offers route optimisation for users. Thanks to extensive public transport links, and these services, London residents rely heavily on public transport, and less on cars.
The UK Department for Transport (DfT) has also expressed an interest in MaaS through the Williams-Shapps Plan for rail published earlier this year, stating that it will “simplify the current confusing mass of tickets, [and] standardise mobile and online ticketing”. Similar ticketing rhetoric was presented in the DfT’s Bus Back Better strategy. But what else is needed to truly streamline the integration of the entire transport system?
The recent Transport Decarbonisation Plan sets out a good course for changing the way we travel, but it lacks funding, resources and robust policy.
Data sharing across stakeholders and service providers is essential to route planning and integration. This includes information about user patterns, service times, live service updates, customer profiles, prices, payments and so on. After consulting on MaaS governance in the UK, the Transport Select Committee suggested a “no data, no service” policy for local authorities, which often struggle to collect and regulate relevant data, largely due to resource and financial restraints. Prior to implementing wider MaaS systems this has to be addressed, with local authorities given sufficient resources to collect and store the necessary data.
As local authorities are responsible for the bus services that make up 58% of passenger journeys in the UK, their involvement in any future MaaS operations and programmes is essential. One of the biggest barriers is the relationship between national, local, and devolved transport authorities. The Kutsuplus MaaS service in Helsinki failed because the cost to local authorities was too high, while other MaaS trials have shown that local authorities did not have enough influence over how their services interacted with national services, leading to a breakdown of operations.
According to the government’s Future of Transport Regulatory Review, local authorities should “be responsible for trialling and facilitating MaaS, providing information to MaaS platform providers in their area, set (or enforce the national) strategic objectives of MaaS, support MaaS users and consider the local needs, encourage transport data sharing and encourage modal shift”.
The Transport Decarbonisation Plan introduces the idea of a Local Authority Toolkit, to support local areas in delivering more sustainable transport measures. This is a good step in increasing low-carbon transport options across the UK but, again, there should be more support to make sure these are also well integrated with adjacent areas and across the country.
Successful MaaS systems also need to be accessible to all, so people with disabilities and access requirements are considered at every stage of journey design. Some existing systems focus on timetabling and ticketing, but they should include other details about, for example, services for wheelchair users, for a more inclusive and comfortable experience.
The right tools exist but turning them into something valuable and functional for everyone, everywhere, isn’t there yet. To get there, local authorities must be involved in the decision making, and in the allocation of resources and funding, so that local services and data can be seamlessly integrated regionally and nationally. Achieve that and transport utopia won’t be far off.
Helena Bennett is a senior policy adviser at Green Alliance – an independent think tank and charity focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. Helena joined Green Alliance in the Low Carbon Future theme in April 2021. Prior to this, she was the sustainability lead in PwC’s Innovation team, and worked part time with the Climate Vulnerable Forum as a research assistant.