Why customer focus is key for implementing Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) in large cities

mobility as a service

Mobility is rapidly changing, and public transport is a fundamental part. Governments and local authorities all around the world are desperate to improve transport infrastructure with the aim to boost their economies and keep people moving.

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) has a range of nuanced definitions, and your idea of what it means will depend on your interest or industry perspective. Regardless of the precise angle on MaaS, we can all agree that it’s a customer-centric approach to create easier on-demand mobility.

Why large cities need MaaS

Urbanisation is increasing. Today, 55% of people worldwide live in urban areas. By 2050, this is predicted to be 68%. Even by 2030, we will have 43 global megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants. This trend is ongoing, and the result is that cities must improve how they work.

At the same time as this unprecedented growth, people want their cities to be more livable, workable, and stable. As Xuemei Bai says in her article for World Economic Forum:

Given the scale of expected growth, this is a remarkable opportunity to develop thriving, healthy, liveable cities with low pollution, integrated transport systems and low emissions.

As Bai mentions, environmental concerns are also key. Governments want to get citizens out of their cars and onto sustainable forms of electric (or hybrid) mass transit. In order to achieve this, the network and its supporting infrastructure must be efficient, reliable, and easy to use.

Technology has a huge impact, and without advances in cloud architecture and widespread connectivity, we wouldn’t be talking about MaaS. Furthermore, smartphone user penetration in Western Europe was at over 67% in 2018; which might sound underwhelming but sales are progressively increasing every quarter of every year.

Another aspect is that younger people aren’t as interested in buying a car. Of course, this is a chicken-and-egg situation; how much of an impact has improved public transport had on the desire to own a vehicle? Increased urbanisation lends itself to shorter distances travelled to work, and this in turn boosts use of public transport and reduces the need for a personal car.

There is a long list of reasons for the rise of MaaS, and each could have its own detailed study.

MaaS and public transport

As I mentioned, the fundamentals of Mobility-as-a-Service has consensus, but the balance of who develops it and how it operates shifts depending on your perspective. The dominant view of MaaS is one that likens it to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This involves a subscription-based contract, containing certain levels or tiers of access to a product.

In this case, the product would be a mobility solution; and the facilitator is a cloud-based travel app or mobile website. The traveller can book an end-to-end trip in advance, and has access to this system to plan a route and book their transport flexibly.

A lauded example of this in practice is in Helsinki. Through a digital platform called Whim, travellers can select their destination and preferred mode(s) of transport, see the route plan in detail, and pay in advance for the door-to-door experience. As this Deloitte post says:

Helsinki’s vision represents the next revolution in mobility: mobility as a service (MaaS). At its core, MaaS relies on a digital platform that integrates end-to-end trip planning, booking, electronic ticketing, and payment services across all modes of transportation, public or private. It’s a marked departure from where most cities are today, and how mobility has been delivered until now.

Online booking already existed, as did online route planning. But this initiative brought together various existing forms of transport; car-sharing, taxis, buses, trains, etc. into one platform where the traveller could plan, book, and pay – either by subscription or by one-off digital payments.

MaaS and car manufacturers

The major car manufacturers are now positioning themselves to cope with the huge changes in mobility over the coming years. This involves strategic partnerships, expanding into subscription services, tapping into electric vehicle charging, and other initiatives. Car manufacturers want to retain power and influence in the mobility market, despite the threat of improving mass transit.

As financial journalist Jon Markman outlines in his Forbes article:

Daimler has MyTaxi. Volkswagen invested in Gett, a German MaaS firm. Toyota has a strategic arrangement with Uber. General Motors (GM) is working with Lyft. Tesla (TSLA) even has a Master Plan that involves a fleet of fully autonomous MaaS cars all over the globe that can be summoned by a smartphone application…

Most expert commentators agree that car ownership will inevitably decline, and this changes the entire business model of the automobile industry. Rather than bury their heads in the sand, manufacturers are starting to hustle with the aim of future-proofing their business.

How will this pan out? Who will emerge as front-runners and how will the shift to MaaS bring together private car industry stakeholders and public transport operators? This remains to be seen, but it’s an exciting time in mobility.

Extra ingredients in MaaS

So far, we’ve focused on the subscription model. This is based on online platforms, access to a smartphone, and the ability or willingness to engage with digital technology. In my mind, MaaS extends further than this. Ultimately, MaaS is about making travel easier: and this encompasses ad-hoc travel using different forms of one-off payment technology.

Ultimately, MaaS should ensure that the traveller doesn’t need to think too hard about how to get from A to B. It should be seamless, with an underlying confidence that they are getting the best fare and the smartest (quickest or most comfortable) route to their destination.

It is the job of MaaS stakeholders to live up to the promise: Mobility-as-a-Service, rather than Mobility-as-a-Business. For too long, travellers have needed a PhD to navigate complex fares and tariff schemes to get the best price. The shift to a customer-centric mindset is the only way to boost public transport usage and build trust in the networks.              

One part of this customer-centric mindset is the adoption of open-loop payment technology. The world’s best example of this is Transport for London (TfL) in the UK. Although some criticise TfL for stifling private innovation and preventing the “truest” form of MaaS, the move from a closed-loop Oyster Card scheme to contactless card and smartphone payments is revolutionary.

It’s clear that the ultimate MaaS setup for any region would encompass both the end-to-end booking and payment through a subscription service, and ad-hoc (anonymous) card payments. This would offer freedom and convenience to everyone: regular commuters, irregular travellers, day-trippers, and international tourists. Closed-loop loyalty plus open-loop flexibility.

mobility as a service

Implementing MaaS: Key challenges                       

Of course, there are huge challenges associated with the MaaS subscription model. The main overriding obstacle is to draw the disparate parties together to collaborate under one banner.

The clear problems can been understood as follows:

  • Systems: Ticketing and scheduling systems have been established using various technologies and various languages. Somehow, legacy systems for buses, trains, trams metro, and taxis need to talk to each other in a standardised format.
  • Security: Where there is innovation, there is vulnerability. MaaS stakeholders must ensure bulletproof cybersecurity in the face of hackers, and be able to accurately identify travellers and their tokens at each stage of their journey. Protection of customer data is paramount, and fraud must be actively targeted.
  • Business models: Different operators have different business models, pricing structures, and value-add offers. Some may have built a strong brand reputation on a particular set of values. Some players may have been in direct competition with others for decades. It’s difficult to move into the collaborative mindset under these conditions.
  • Suppliers and partnerships: With such a huge shift in technology, existing suppliers and partnerships will be put under pressure. This is not easy to manage, particularly if long-term contracts are in place or relationships are well-established.
  • Data compatibility: The compatibility of different data sets is a challenge, but this is essential to giving the end-user a consistent experience across operators.

These are big challenges for public transport operators. With the widespread appetite for MaaS, a new way of thinking must emerge. A culture of collaboration, trust, and non-competitiveness is needed to build the shared platforms that travellers need. The payments industry must ensure that stakeholders get their fair (fare) share quickly, accurately, and consistently.

There are also clear challenges to implementing open-loop payments on public transport. This article by the Australian Payments Network features an interview with TfL’s Mike Tuckett:

There was a large group of commuters on TfL that we call ‘wallet tappers’ – someone that taps their whole wallet on the reader. Because “wallet tappers” carry more than one contactless card in their wallet, this can result in someone unintentionally “tapping on” with an Oyster card and “tapping off” with a credit card that they didn’t want to use. We felt that this presented a significant reputational risk to our scheme. We solved this mainly using a marketing campaign to educate the public all about ‘card clash’, but we also developed an algorithm to infer where it has occurred and reverse the transactions.

He also discusses the speed issue. With contactless cards initially having been designed for the retail environment, the authorisation response time was initially too long to be suitable for public transport. This isn’t the limit of technical challenges with regards to open-loop payments: aggregation of tariffs is complex, dependable connectivity is difficult, and much more besides.

We must also remember the unbanked (or underbanked) travellers who buy physical tickets or top-up their closed-loop travelcard at unmanned ticket machines and manned ticket desks. In this context, cash payments are also still in play.

Whilst transport infrastructure can progress through innovation, operators have a responsibility to help vulnerable people get around. In some cases, this technology is accelerating too fast for those who lack access to digital services; whether it be contactless bank cards, NFC-enabled smartphones, or online subscription services.


Mobility-as-a-Service is the present in some cities, and the future for others. Public transport is a service that enables the economy, rather than just an economy in itself. There is a demand for smart travel, seamless booking, and easy payments.

The key to successful MaaS implementation is to have trusted third-party authorities who drive the innovation and mediate between key players. In a competitive environment, it’s important to create win-win scenarios wherever possible. This will require tough diplomacy, and expertise in technology for payments, scheduling, and more.

MaaS is a mindset change. Industry stakeholders must adopt a truly customer-centric approach, and travellers must think about mobility in a holistic way. This is an exciting time for everyone in mobility. At CCV, we are here to make payments happen in public transport.

Get in touch

Are you open to exploring how payments can help your transportation service become more customer-centric? Please contact us at supportme@ccv.eu or +31 88 228 9965

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