Mobility-as-a-Service: The digital transformation of transportation

Sampo Hietanen, CEO of MaaS Global, is widely regarded as the father of the Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) concept. After six years of planning with governments, cities and the industry, his company released the Whim app in Finland, a MaaS service linking all transport networks in the country. Users enter their destination, the app gives a suggested travel route using all available means of transport – bus, train, bike, taxi and rental cars, and the trip is paid for through monthly subscription packages. eGov Innovation speaks with Sampo Hietanen on Mobility-as-a-Service and the digital transformation of transportation.

What is Mobility-as-a-Service?
Mobility-as-a-Service brings all means of travel together to a monthly subscription. It combines all modes of transportation, from brand new cars to taxis, buses, trains and bike share into a single mobile service, removing the hassle of planning and one-off payments.

MaaS is claimed to be the first ever service that can compete with a car ownership by providing a true freedom of mobility. MaaS is taking care of all A’s and all B’s for the user. It means a complete set of mobility in all life situations by giving users a service level promise.

What’s the advantage of MaaS over traditional models of transportation?

The advantage of the MaaS model is that it will not focus on building new vehicles or operating transport itself, it just combines all the existing services in the best possible way to the end-user. The goal is to boost the use of current transport services and to bring productivity and efficiency to the whole transport sector. Transportation is the second largest consumption, and it hasn’t been revolutionised by digitalization, so there is a lot of capacity for growth, much more productivity gains that we can bring about. Most of this lies with underused assets of people owning their own cars, that they use only about 4% of the time. There are lots of young people, especially the millennials, they are not into ownership, they are more into users. Basically, MaaS is about creating a better alternative to car ownership without prohibiting the use of cars.

Whim beta testing has recently been launched in Finland. What’s the result so far and what are your future plans?

Users are adopting the service well but there is a lot to be done in delivering a service consisting of different types of players. Seamless user experience means much more than just a cool app. The user needs to feel that the service is continuing throughout their rides. Our aim is to launch Whim first in a few more selected areas and to go global within a few years’ time. That means of course that the MaaS movement keeps on going and we, like any other mobility operator, can deliver services.

What does it take to implement MaaS in a country? How do you get all the transportation players together?

At first, transportation providers have to get familiar with the concept to be able to create their strategy towards this market change. It often means also strong political will towards MaaS, especially in early stages. All it really needs is that there is enough transport supply that is open for mobility operators. A minimum set for that tends to be a public transport system, taxis or similar and access to a car through car share and/or car rental. With that, you can start, but it does help if there is a full understanding of creating an open ecosystem where different operators can compete and new innovations can be tested. What is required is for all the players including bus, train and metro operators, taxi companies, car-sharing services and local authorities to work as a network and take the first step at the same time. In Finland, we have managed to get that eco-system onboard and are confident we can launch the services on a commercial basis this year.

With digital disruption, how do you see mobility evolving in the next few decades?

If you think of the transport sector, it is one of the dinosaurs that hasn’t changed for ages. Now, transport is finally being hit by a digital tsunami and all the biggest car OEMs are saying that they are shifting from car manufacturers to service providers. For example, General Motors said they expect the transport sector to change more within the next five years than it has in the last 50 years.

Image credit: New cities