MAAS or ‘Mobility as a Service’ is the integration of different forms of transport services into a single mobility service that can be made accessible as per demand. A MAAS operator facilitates various transportation options, including taxi or bike-sharing, car rental, etc. or a combination of options to fulfill the customers’ demands. Such a system holds the potential to revolutionise mobility in India, write Amit Bhatt, Executive Director, World Resources Institute (WRI) India and Jagriti Arora, Project Associate, WRI India.
It’s 2021. “Tech is the future” is a hackneyed expression now. Humankind’s love for technological innovation sometimes transcends use-cases too. Innovation must be encouraged! We carry the world in our pockets. The mobile phone has replaced books, televisions, banks, and most recently, schools too. Mobile phones have replaced tickets, bus charts, and even the ride-hailing spaces when it comes to transportation. The rise of Uber and Ola in India is a testament to the success of mobile phones as space rather than just a product.
Mobility-as-a-service (MAAS) has been picking up steam in the transportation discourse worldwide. MAAS brings every kind of transport together into a single intuitive mobile app and integrate services, including travel planning and payments, from different providers. It holds the potential to revolutionise mobility in India, nudging mobility choices in a sustainable direction and enabling a mode shift from private vehicles to public transport. To help improve its polluted cities and congested roads, India needs MAAS. However, it is essential to implement MAAS equitably.
Sustainable Development Target 11.2 states that by 2030, vulnerable groups like women, children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly, should have access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport systems. Products that offer simple, intuitive solutions should be made available to every part of society. Such solutions fuel economic activity across user groups, protecting their rights as citizens and offering them more choice. Little needs to be said about their contribution to a greener future. So far, MAAS has been perceived as a private player’s arena, but the government has a vital role to play in making MAAS viable in Indian cities. From the government’s viewpoint, MAAS is characterised by multimodality, digital access to transport services, userfocused trip planning, data sharing, convenience, demand and supply management, integration of transport networks and payment interfaces, better information (to the users), and competitive markets (ensuring efficiency).
It is pertinent to ask what role the government can play in making MAAS successful in Indian cities. A typical MAAS ecosystem consists of three actors, transport service providers (including public transport operators, informal public transport operators, car rental agencies, micro-mobility platforms, etc.), MAAS integrator, and, finally, MAAS provider (consumerfacing). In a market-led MAAS ecosystem, private players will be both integrators and MAAS providers; in a public MAAS ecosystem, the government will play the roles of integrators and MAAS providers; in a public-private MAAS ecosystem, the government will play the role of an integrator, while private players will play the role of MAAS providers. The scenario should be chosen keeping public value in mind. The government is best placed to ensure that the beneficial and sustainable modes of transport are incentivised. The government needs to play at least one role in MAAS ecosystem to keep it equitable.
Once the government identifies its roles, it can work towards ensuring social equity. How is social equity different from social equality, one might wonder. Social equality considers the idea that every individual within a governed society receives the same opportunities, support and resources with no discrimination or reserve. Social equity denotes separately that each person should have access to the number of options they specifically need. This entails tailored solution across socio-economic backgrounds of the society. The mobile phone penetration in India has been increasing but has it grown equally? According to Pew Research, only 24 per cent of people in India have smartphones. Additionally, India trails other emerging economies like South Africa, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Indonesia, Tunisia, Kenya, and Nigeria, in smartphone adoption rate.
Thinking of MAAS as just a mobile app might restrict its use for nonsmartphone-users; thus, building smart card booths, with interfaces available in regional languages, around bus stops might help bring these solutions to everyone. It is also essential to keep MAAS cheap. Thus, alternative revenue mechanisms should be deliberated. For example, charging more for on-street parking might help pay for certain loss-making services, like public transport. MAAS can become profitable only after it reaches a particular scale. The government should thus play the role of a promoter to ensure that it scales its way to profitability. When making decisions about MAAS, public value should be the key currency. The government can take both MAAS and Indian cities to a better place.