When you think about micro-mobility, the first place that springs to mind is California. Regions around the world have been trying to mimic the Silicon Valley mindset, introducing innovative technology and transport solutions that revolutionise the way people move and live.
For years, micro mobility and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) start-ups have flocked to the region in the hope of getting their products, from bikes to e-scooters, in California and beyond. Essentially, it is petri dish for future transport that has introduced the likes of Uber, Bird and Lyft to the world.
However, this has led to an extremely concerning time for the country as policy, lobbying and legislative battles against floods of MaaS platforms are starting to challenge cities across the US. The influx of private micro-mobility and ride-hailing companies may look exciting to the public, but they are quickly becoming a pressing problem that cities are attempting to address.
Scott Shepard is the Chief Commercial Officer of the PSA Groupe’s car sharing and mobility service Free2Move. He is extremely passionate about the way cities operate, control and assist urban transportation. He believes that the problems in the U.S surround private mobility services aggressive launch methods and their defensive approach that cities take when it comes data.
“Companies are seeking assistance from consumer legal advocacy groups (led by the largest TNCs) in places such as California to try and stop cities from mandating the requirements of sharing location data as well as the distribution of different mobility assets such as scooters and bikes at a state level,” he says.
“Ultimately, these companies are trying to draft a law Assembly bill 1112 (AB 1112) that would preempt control of local municipalities to require this type of relationship between data sharing and operation.”
According to Shepard, this will prevent the highest and best realisation of MaaS. “If we start seeing major legal battles and conflicting legislation, key stakeholders will be pitted against each other. It’s been a very negative turn of events recently.”
Laying Down the Law
Roadblocks, whether culturally, politically or legislatively-driven, are to be expected when it comes to MaaS. The interface and interaction between governments and the private sector is moving completely independently from one another, which has caused huge problems.
Shepard believes that, while much innovation and investment comes from North America, the best implementation and practices for MaaS occur in Europe, mainly due to regulations and collaboration with cities.
“You still have many different operators entering the European market but, because the framework is so tightly regulated, the independent actors understand that coordination with cities and regulators is only achievable by sharing data and ensuring GDPR,” he says. “It’s the cost of doing business.”
This has allowed European cities to efficiently accommodate MaaS which, in turn, will lead to additional last-mile connectivity and increase ridership and public transport networks. There are already many different providers in the MaaS space, including Free2Move, that are able to work with other European cities to provide better services.
“Larger operators want to privatise as well as operate the ecosystem, so that they can integrate new mobility entrants to solve longer-term mobility, urban planning and investments such as public infrastructure and transport networks,” says Shepard, “and this just won’t work.”
Just because new mobility providers enter the market, it doesn’t mean that the region will progress. This means that, without legislation, cities will be caught off guard, unable to introduce methods to start operationalising these in a sustainable fashion. As Shepard stresses, “we do not need more cities like that.”
Inspiration from Across the Pond
In terms of landmass, the US and Europe are similar in size; the US is 9,833,000 square kilometers while Europe is 10,180,000 square kilometers. Although many European cities are unique to one another, the continent has a tighter mobility ecosystem which allows a more holistic approach.
We may never see the materialisation of MaaS within a majority of North American cities, because people have become over reliant on single occupancy automobiles, low-density land use and disconnected street networks that do not lend themselves to the usage of public transport.
Due to this, Mr. Shepard thinks that we will only see successful use cases related to micro-mobility on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis, beyond tourism and novelty usage.
“We must change our way of thinking and get into a routine where we start using MaaS as a daily routine, to commute through the use of scooters or bikes, public transport networks and walking. The potential for this in North America is yet to be seen and, given the current political and legislative climate, this will only prevent the further realisation of MaaS.”
In fact, private mobility services have been shown to siphon off potential passengers out of buses and trains into single occupancy vehicles that cause congestion and pollution. For this reason, Shepard firmly believes that we are regressing in 2019.
“No one wants to talk about the current status of MaaS in North America and we desperately need to. Otherwise, all of these pilots and initiatives in the US are going to materialise into nothing.”
This links to the hype of autonomous shuttles that first peaked in the US in 2017 which, says Shepard, have now become passe.
“I’m not saying we’ve hit the hype cycle of MaaS, but we’re not going to materialise this in the US until these other considerations are addressed, otherwise there is going to be a huge gap in consumer dissatisfaction.”
For the most part, MaaS doesn’t actually exist today; it is merely being used as a term pinned to any form of micro-mobility or ridesharing app (or super app). Today, the public will struggle to find an application that integrates various forms of transport services into a single platform, which means that these ‘solutions’ may actually be creating inefficiencies in transport networks around the world as different privatised mobility models cannibalise public transportation.
So, is MaaS a genuine transport solution to our congested cities, or is it another overhyped tech bubble?