By Sampo Hietanen, CEO and Founder of MaaS Global

Whenever a new space develops, there’s usually a struggle to name it, and then a battle to define what it means. Just think of terms like service design, content marketing or circular economy. We may have accepted the terms but the consensus on what they mean is a shaky one at best.

MaaS, Mobility-as-a-Service, is living through the same thing. We are slowly settling on the name (and letting go of alternatives like Transportation-as-a-Service or Combined Mobility), but the fight for ownership is on. Since the space is hot, there are several differing, totally legitimate approaches on the market, but of course some snake oil and plenty of old with a new shiny label on it.

I don’t claim to own MaaS any more than the next guy, but since I was there when the concept was thought up and the term was coined, I thought I’d throw in my thoughts on what constitutes MaaS and especially MaaS we can believe in.

To me it has always been about the user. The driver is the change in consumer behavior made possible by technology. When an individual can get anywhere he or she needs to, anytime, anywhere, in ordinary life, without having to own a car, it’s MaaS. If all someone needs to get to is home, to work, to the supermarket and to their favorite cafe, and all these places are situated next to a busy tram line, then that tramline is MaaS for them. For most of us, our everyday needs are more varied and therefore the answer must be a combination of things.

By definition MaaS consists of two elements: mobility and service. Mobility is individually experienced freedom to move as you wish, where you wish and when you wish. Service means that you do not own the means of production, you get it from a service provider when and how you need it.

Therefore the discussion about technologies and payment structures, as important as it is, is beside the point if we are trying to define (or claim!) MaaS. The core of MaaS is the freedom of mobility without having to own a vehicle.

To deliver MaaS defined this way, we need several things, of which a service assistant and a pricing model are the most important. Without those, you don’t have MaaS. The assistant is one central place that answers all your mobility needs. Today it is usually an app, served by a platform connected to different modes of transportation. When, in 2006, I started to think about this, apps as we know them today did not exist, but as they emerged, along with smartphones, they solved a key challenge: freedom is freedom only if it is easy to exercise.

The pricing model is essential to perceived freedom. It guarantees that the users know that they can get anywhere in a geographically defined space, anytime during a defined time span. It is certainly the more challenging of the two essential components (assistant and pricing) but it probably is also the game changer: you get it right and the change in consumer behaviour is accelerated to a whole new level.

There are two more things that I don’t think define MaaS, but are essential to delivering it in a scalable, world-changing way. One is operators, the other is open ecosystem. By operators I don’t mean transportation providers themselves, but operators that connect to those transport operators. An easy comparison, that the idea of MaaS owes a whole lot to, are telecommunications operators. They guarantee that you have access to a network that works, wherever you are. Whether they own or maintain the network is secondary. What’s important is that there are several competing operators: that guarantees a sufficient and improving quality of the service.

The comparison to telecom operators is also a way to explain why transportation is not mobility. Transportation happens when it happens and the customers are supposed to catch it if they can. Mobility happens when and how the customer needs it, like a phone call or a Google search.

I believe that the only way operators can achieve the kind of service that delivers the required level of experienced freedom is, if there is an open ecosystem for transportation modalities. As I have blogged before, the traffic engineer in me understands that a single provider is probably the safest provider. But the service builder that I have become is aware that a planner is easily lured to a fallacy that the world will succumb to his brilliant models. In the real world, the required modalities are so many that no single provider, whether a public or a private silo, can provide the necessary service level. And even if they can locally, they cannot nationally or internationally, which is the promise many customers want. A change that scales is the only change that matters. And that, in the end, is the true measure of MaaS.

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