Who Will Champion Mobility as a Service?

Uber was just the first step. The App-algorithm-transportation revolution will evolve into Mobility as a Service.

Uber was just the first step. The App-algorithm-transportation revolution will evolve into Mobility as a Service. Virginia Virginians lead the way or fall behind?

Around the world, companies and muncipalities are experimenting with Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Fast Company describes how a new company, MaaS Global, is changing the thinking about transportation, in Helsinki, Finland:

If you need to go somewhere, you pull up a new app, which calculates the best way to get there—public transit, a bike-share bike, taxi, a rental car, or a combination. Instead of buying individual tickets, you pay a monthly fee of €249. …

Users can choose to link their calendars with the app, so routes will be planned in advance. With each trip, it’s possible to make a choice of transport mode based on what’s cheapest or greenest or most convenient—or mood….

MaaS Global is “in talks” with several cities in North America, Fast Company says. The company may or may not have devised a viable economic model — a fixed monthly prescription that doesn’t vary by usage seems problematic to me. But the company is only one of many experimenting in this space. Sooner or later, someone will figure out how to make it work.

Bacon’s bottom line: I’ve often referred to the integration of smart phones, algorithms and transportation as the Uber revolution because the ride-scheduling company Uber developed it first. But Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is much bigger than Uber, and its potential ramifications are even more far reaching. First and most important, it can save people money and expand their transportation options, thus improving their quality of life. Second,  MaaS could reverse the decades-long decline in shared ridership, meaning that we can get much more mileage (so to speak) out of our existing infrastructure.

Virginia can continue approaching transportation as it always has — by building new stuff, at a cost of billions of dollars a year — or it can foster the growth of Mobility as a Service. We Virginians need to ask ourselves, how can we encourage innovative transportation companies to set up shop in Virginia? We reached the right solution with Uber and Lyft, enabling them to compete in the transportation marketplace. That was a good start,  but what else can the public sector do to create a welcoming environment for entrepreneurs to expand beyond what is essentially a taxicab service?

The idea is just hanging out there, waiting for a champion. We probably can’t expect much from Republicans and Democrats, who are beholden to entrenched special interests. (The “transportation” sector has contributed roughly $35 million over the past decade to Virginia political candidates, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.) Republicans are the party of roads, and Democrats the party of mass transit. Both transportation modes are more than a century old, and both have much to fear from the MaaS revolution.

Only one party, the Libertarian Party, is the natural home for entrepreneurs and innovators who seek to disrupt the status quo. If Libertarians want to broaden their popular appeal by creating community-based, private-sector solutions for real-world challenges, then they should lead the charge for Mobility as a Service.

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15 responses to “Who Will Champion Mobility as a Service?

  1. When in doubt, go with the Institute for Justice in Arlington. They will champion anyone, particularly those who are small businesses and therefore sympathetic, who stands up to the entrenched interests.

  2. I actually don’t believe this will be a top down solution. Rather, it will be a locality-driven solution. If you look at Charlottesville and Arlington, their planners and governing bodies are already starting to look at land use decisions with an eye on mobility. I know that both localities have looked at this issue in the past year when considering parking needs for projects.

    My guess is that in Virginia, it will be haphazard. Charlottesville and Arlington will lead the way due to their density. Alexandria, Richmond, Newport News, and Norfolk will follow. Maybe you’ll see Roanoke join in. And then it will be a long time before you see this mainstreamed in other areas of the state.

    • I agree — locality-driven decisions will be made to test and prove the concept at first, then copied. But getting away from auto dependence has a health component, too. I see this also spurred on by the rising number of elderly in those denser, largely-urban localities you mention. That’s the driver in a lot of local van services.

      • It’s funny you mention that. When I saw my Father at Christmas, he was talking about how people don’t understand an important concept:

        Seniors want mobility! The scariest thing for a senior is to lose the privilege to drive b/c in our current world that makes them completely reliant on family/friends for transportation. If you live in a rural or exurban area, it’s either pray that a family member or friend will take you to the doctor/grocery store/other retail needs or go to the old folks home. Cabs are nonexistent in a lot of rural areas or very cost prohibitive to seniors. Whereas mobility combined with public transit still gives them a degree of independence and may result in less usage of nursing homes. He said he thinks you will see a lot of retirees flock to communities that adopt more mobility based transportation policies combined with good mass transit. I think he’s correct.

        • I think Larry’s father is spot on – older people want to hang on to mobility as long as possible. The average age of drivers in Fairfax County rises substantially under the early afternoon hours. Many of the area’s seniors are behind the wheel. Most have the good sense to avoid the PM rush.

    • You want to use Arlington as an example of planning? They built a buried underground tunnel from the old, now non-existent courthouse, to the metro that was being built in the late 60’s. The metro stop didn’t open for 10 years. The courthouse is now a parking lot. Please leave the government out of planning. If Uber will work, it will work in spite of the planners. Urban planning is to planning as military music is to music.

  3. Maybe – might be useful to see how many people are actually interested in mobility as a service…

    and I’m a bit amused in Jim characterizing them as entrepreneurs who want to “disrupt” the current entrenched interests when mobility of any kind relies on publicly-funded, built, operated and maintained infrastructure for it’s “service”.

    Now if you want to see a TRULY neat and revolutionary thing – look at this:

    ” VDOT partnering with Waze traffic app to help drivers avoid backups”


    now here is that big bad nasty govt bureaucracy actually teaming up with a Libertarian-like crowd-sourcing outfit…

    GOOD LORD! Looks like Waze is selling it’s entrepreneurial soul here to get in bed with the mother of all govt “special interest” evil-doers.

    Crazy better call out the IJA troops!

  4. Yep. Perhaps Waze started as a crowdsourced concept but it’s a Google subsidiary now.

  5. Eh, I think the last year proved that the ideological paradigm of this blog is dead. The Economist ran a good column a few weeks ago about how Western politics are no longer “left v. right” “private v. public” “labor v. capital” but instead are a politics that is largely education attainment driven and a view of open v. closed societies.

    I think that’s dead-on. I’d imagine the Charlottesville City Council and the Arlington BOS are the 2 most liberal governing bodies in Virginia. Yet, they’re much closer to embracing mobility than ruby red localities. VDOT’s partnership with Waze is also a good example. The “market/capital” v. “government/labor” politics of old are fading out.

    I imagine the average Trump voter is much more negative towards mobility than the average Clinton/Johnson voter. I imagine that, “The automobile is independence. I’ll never give my freedom away to share a car.” is pretty indicative of a lot of Trump voters. Clinton/Johnson voters’ attitudes? “Let’s Uber it tonight.”

  6. you know.. more than a little of all this entrepreneurial “disruption” stuff is based on Govt infrastructure and facilities… Developers are always talking about how “hard” it is for them to do their thing but it totally relies on things like govt-provided mobility infrastructure, govt-provided water/sewer, govt-provided schools and other services..

    all this stuff about smartphones – a LOT of it is based on the govt built and operated GPS Satellite system.. you know THAT incompetent and corrupt govt… that squashes entrepreneurship with job killing regulations and all that ROT!

    then you have Dominion using govt Eminent Domain to force other property owners to sell their land – AT THE SAME time they won’t let those same property owners build solar and feed the grid!!!

    I’d say rent-seeking and corporate cronyism is alive and well .. despite all the blather about “libertarianism” – faux – that is.

  7. Mobility will always be a problem if we concentrate businesses in central locations (hubs). Zoning should be set to discourage concentration and to distribute the businesses throughout the residential areas so people can live close to work without having to live in multi-family housing. Generating more and more business hubs decreases the mobility problem but falls short of what can be accomplished with linear cities. In addition, managers must change their desire to be surrounded by people and must design work in packets such that workers can be paid by packets completed rather than by hours in a central office.

    • Despite having less office space than in 2010 when the Comp Plan for Tysons was revised; having residential lag projections (it’s c. 20% above GMU’s low-growth forecast; the Silver Line operating; and more bus service, traffic congestion in and around Tysons is worse than in 2010. My source for the statements on office and residential development levels is Fred Selden, director of Planning & Zoning for Fairfax County. So far, we are seeing some great architecture, but hell on the streets, including those in Vienna and McLean.

      • TMT – you’ll be amused to know that down in Fredericksburg, we have folks who moved here from NoVA – vehemently opposed to more subdivisions – because of the traffic… Over and over at the rezone hearings, “come heres” are showing up to oppose approval… The usually start off saying something like ” When I moved here in 1995… it was a lovely rural place and NOW it’s getting ruined and starting to look just like NoVa that I tried to escape”!

        others troupe to the podium .. each with a similar complaint – the only thing that changes is the year they moved here.

        And I just “love” the “rural” concept!!! these folks are living in subdivisions with water and sewer, fire stations, schools, etc..

        you’ll be hard pressed to find a single person who grew up here .. as did their father/mother , etc… getting up to complain… it’s always those NoVa folks and when they’re not complaining about traffic they’re complaining about I-95, the HOT Lanes and VRE… starting to think that more than a few NoVA folks are just not happy campers.. unless they earn 100K a year, have all the amenities they can consume – and live in wonderful subdivision that has no traffic!!!

        and went to Short Pump in Richmond the other day … Cheesecake Factory it was – WHAT A MESS!!!

  8. Well I think Waze is more like what most want than mobility as a service (MaaS) for $250 a month. How many reading here would chuck their own cars to sign up for this service?

    How many would KEEP their cars AND sign up for the service on a monthly basis?

    How many would possibly use the service whenever it was convenient to do so but not give up their own car?

    I’m also a little skeptical of the claimed time savings because every time one changes mobility modes – there is often time involved in doing that – and especially so if it is an ad hoc stop rather than a designated change modes location.

    I just don’t see the Jim Bacon family NOT using the family car to go to Myrtle Beach but I MIGHT see them use such a service if they fly to Denver and need to get to Aspen… and perhaps they’d use that service from their home to the departing airport…

    or how about this – All that gawd-awful traffic in NoVA where TMT… Acbar and Don live. How many of them would use such a service – and how often and would they ever conceive of chucking their car and paying $249 a month for the service?

    $249 a month is MORE than a car payment for a beater car.. that sits where you live and is “dispatchable” on a moments notice, does not require switching modes… and if you use WAZE – it will likely find the fastest route.

    what would be a BOON would be if an app like WAZE could advise – based on history and prediction – not only the fastest route at a point in time – but the BEST TIME to get the fastest trip. For instance, obviously, you’d get a terrible time in the middle of rush hour and most people are at least somewhat aware of this in the area around where they live – but how about further away? they want to go to some distant mall.. but are willing to time shift to evade the traffic?? If you could ask WAZE – “what’s the best day and time to travel to some destination?

    would this change people’s behaviors? if they actually knew there was a significant time penalty for some time slots.. would they be convinced to shift their plans?

    • I would not trade my car for MaaS. Nor would I keep my car and pay a monthly fee. The only exception I would consider would if my world changed and I had to commute to Downtown D.C. again on an everyday basis. $250 per month to be picked up and delivered twice a day with the flexibility to have quick access to rides during the day.

      Like mass transit, I think MaaS likely needs high density and a few hub points (such as Tysons or Downtown D.C.). I just don’t see it here.

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