24th July, 18
Managing partner at Mobilae
These days, there is a myriad of mobility apps, often subsidized, in whole or in part, with public funding. The growth of their numbers seems unstoppable: each public transport tender seems to require the launching of a new app, carrying a regional brand. New bike share schemes are launched across the country, again, each generating their bespoke app. All of these apps tend to operate in perfect isolation, taking their own mode of transport as a focal point. The bike app only lets you rent from that particular bike-share. The bus app only gives you the timetables for one operator.
For us as travelers, such apps are too limited in scope. And they’re also hard to find: with their small marketing budgets, we often fail to even learn of their existence. What do we really want? An app that does it all. Comparing options, planning our journey, booking a taxi or bike-share, and paying for all of it. An app of choice that can take me from door to door.
In the current situation, public transport operators will inform me of their own services through their own apps. In the Netherlands 9292 is an improvement for travelers, integrating the information from multiple operators. And Google Maps is even better, also adding journey planning for car and bicycle and direct taxi booking in the app: it currently combines the widest range of travel information available within a single app. That’s why Google Maps will continue to grow at the cost of other journey planners, because it answers the most of travelers’ needs.
Google Maps’ success indicates the path forward. Currently, public money is spent developing new apps, while the demand for those is already plentifully serviced by private parties. Meanwhile there is a lack of focus on unlocking the ‘back end’: facilitating integration and synergy between collective mobility options. The priority should be the development of a central backbone, allowing mobility and service providers across the country to plug in. This will enable the rise of a marketplace where supply and demand can meet to develop national MaaS propositions.
For MaaS to become a success, we must ensure that collective alternatives to the private car can be easily found and accessed by consumers. To achieve that, it’s essential to move beyond the point-to-point model: individual apps for individual modalities within individual regions.
The traveler wants an app that does it all; an app that offers access to the services of as many mobility providers as possible. Now, plenty of companies would be excited to take that role of building the app to rule them all. But there’s a danger to this: this party could become disproportionately powerful, as has happened with other platform services. Thus, while it may seem lucrative for one company to offer this as a service, other transport operators would not accept this.
For that reason, it’s important there will also be a neutral, not-for-profit data-exchange layer. We propose that the government, as well as the major transport operators, and other mobility service providers will be its significant stakeholders. That way, we can ensure a level playing field, while working closely with private parties to weave the infrastructure into the services and apps they develop. That way, the world won’t have one app to rule them all, but every app that does it all.