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Saturday , 28 May 2022

Mobility as a Service Evolving Perspective

During the discussion on the current status of MaaS in India, the panellists; Prof. (Dr.) Ashish Verma, Convenor, IISc Sustainable Transportation Lab, (who moderated the session), Venkata Subbarao Chunduru, Director – India, IBI Group; Dr. Rajesh Krishnan, CEO, ITS Planners and Engineers Private Limited and Tapan Gosaliya, Co-Founder & Director, Amnex Infotechnologies Pvt. Ltd; deliberated the following points: Relevance and value of MaaS in the context of larger development goals of Sustainability, Quality of Life, Economic growth, Social Equity; assessing the benefits of MaaS for mobility service providers, and other related government and private stakeholders; assessing the readiness in Indian cities in introducing MaaS and the challenges and way forward for faster and easy implementation of MaaS in Indian cities.

As defined by MaaS Lab. (University College London), Mobility as a Service is a user-centric, intelligent mobility management and distribution system, in which an integrator brings together offerings of multiple mobility service providers (MSPs), and provides end-users access to them through a digital interface, allowing them to seamlessly plan and pay for mobility.

Setting the tone, Prof. Ashish Verma, explained the fundamental concept of MaaS, gave some examples across the world where MaaS has been successfully implemented: Whim (Helsinki), Ubigo(Stockholm), Moovel (22 cities in Germany) and Izuko (Japan).

Dr. Rajesh Krishnan pointed out the importance of understanding mobility demand in the first place. Unless the mobility demand is understood, we cannot fashion a solution that comes together in the MaaS platform. The next step is to have a plan to solve a problem. This is something that cities need to do. As an example, we need to answer how do various components that go into MaaS are joined up together and solve congestion?

To address such issues, robust models are required for operational analysis. Most cities have it.. For example, London ONE Model (VISSIM) captures the transport demand for Greater London Area. Most Unified Metropolitan Transport Authorities (UMTAs) also have it. Next, we need to design each component of a multimodal network so that the capacity we are planning matches with their plan. Unless we do that, we can provide a number of facilities but they will not come coherently and we will not get most of it. He also said that supply-side, as well as demand-side measures were required. One of the interesting tools that we should employ is demand management strategies through the MaaS channel so that we can influence demand. On the other side, we should monitor how the supply is provided. It has to be ensured that they match up. Several applications with integrated fares have to be made attractive for both MSPs and end-users. Designing the mode change points is also equally important for the successful implementation of MaaS. To implement the MaaS, it is important to have a well-thought-out policy. It should be ensured that the amount paid by the end-users and its distribution among the MSPs is fair and equitable. Dr. Krishnan summed it up stating that it is important to consider who owns the MaaS platform. A specific MaaS platform provider such as Whim or the city itself?

Technologically, we need to make the MaaS platform simpler and easy to use by the end-users. This will help in gaining positive momentum. We should also leverage the existing decision platforms such as India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX) that IISc is building. One way to accelerate for a city is to own the infrastructure rather than a particular MaaS provider.

According to Venkata Chunduru, the approach that was adopted for smart cities should be taken as a reference for MaaS implementation as well. He said that MaaS is the aggregator of aggregators. He gave five different approaches that would help implement MaaS in India. First, each city should define MaaS in its own way. Generalizing it for all the cities, especially in the Indian context, will make things more complicated. Next, ensuring user-centricity is of prime importance. Third, open-mindedness to technology adoption is required. Fourth is the focus on regulations that need to be in place beforehand in order to achieve smooth functioning and avoid chaos. Fifth, embarking on the journey of MaaS keeping aside all the apprehensions about it is
also critical.

Tapan Gosaliya highlighted the importance of digitalization and digital technology and it is important to give these wings through the private sector. The helm of affairs of regulation and operation of mass rapid transit systems like metro and railways should be handled and taken care of by the Government, owing to the complexities within these systems. Contrarily, the operation and management of public transit systems and other micro-mobility modes should be handled by the private sector and not by the Government.

Therefore, entrepreneurship and small initiatives should be supported and encouraged. However, it is very critical to understand that monopolies within the private sector should be strictly avoided. The government sector should work in close collaboration with the private sector to ensure the MaaS implementation turns out to be a success. It is important to run pilots on a small scale and then replicate it on a bigger scale. However, it should be ensured that generalized templates for all the cities should be avoided. Instead, each city has its own needs and factors and that influence the mobility needs and choices. Customized templates should be designed, tested, and implemented respecting the needs and factors of the cities, respectively. In his concluding remarks, he said that for making MaaS implementation a success, it was important to understand that apart from solving the technical challenges, it was equally important to consider the practical issues.

The take-aways

  1. Implementing MaaS in India is futuristic and quite challenging, both technically as well as practically owing to the complexities and diversities in the transport systems and the way they operate.
  2. It is important to understand and quantify the mobility demand using robust transport models in the first place.
  3. After the mobility demand is quantified, it is critical to develop a detailed plan that captures all the aspects of MaaS.
  4. It is preferable to have tailor-made policies for different cities respecting their mobility needs and travel patterns. In other words, one-size-fits-all MaaS policy for different cities will complicate the complexities further, and thus not recommended.
  5. The collaboration between MSPs, government departments, infrastructure developers, private operators, and end-users is the key for the successful implementation of MaaS in India.
  6. A proper balance between the supply-side (MSPs) and the demand-side (end-users) should be ensured to achieve equity and sustainability of the system.
  7. Some pilot projects testing MaaS implementation in various cities will act as a reference tool that can be utilized by other cities.

The Process of Implementation

“I am hoping as I threw the challenge at the end of the panel discussion that we need some city to act as a volunteer to take up a pilot of such a demonstrable Mobility-as-a-Service platform and hopefully that can become an example for other cities to follow. There are huge benefits of such a system being in place. It might sound futuristic, today we are not able to integrate individual modes, how do you bring all of them together on one platform. So, that is where is the opportunity.

I think, our technology ecosystem, business ecosystem, even government ecosystem has shown a lot of examples of how things which are hardly believable have happened like Unified Payment Interface or adoption of FASTag. I am sure this can be achieved   in MaaS concept as well.

First of all, this idea needs to sink in amongst different stake holders, probably it is easier to explain to users because they would understand that through a single platform, we are able to get out optimum travel needs and pay for it and so on.  I think it is easier to explain it to user but to explain it to service providers to come on the same platform, to explain it to government agencies to help, have right kind of favourable regulations and acts favouring such an adoption it requires a level of clear understanding.

Maybe through the use of large-scale, high-level modelling or simulation we should be able to at least quantify what could be the possible benefits for a particular mobility service provider who wants to come on this platform or to government agencies in terms of their goals of development in the city. Hopefully that will help us bring them and adopt this idea and then at least come on a table where they can talk to each other.

We did some test bed of pedestrianizing a busy street in Bengaluru last year where Church Street in Bengaluru was pedestrianized for five months. These kinds of concepts are not very common in India, we don’t see streets being pedestrianized, just being made free of vehicles for everybody.

I have heard, earlier in Connaught Place the authorities thought about pedestrianizing this area but the first thing businesses will say is ‘we are going to be at a huge loss if you don’t allow vehicles to come’. People don’t have an understanding of how this will benefit them. What happens if you pedestrianize streets, is it really helpful.

The lab from IISc collaborated with Directorate of Urban Land Transport and other SMEs who came on board. We used this pilot as a test bed to demonstrate how it can lead to a clean air street which would have health benefits, how it can boost the ridership of public transport, how it can lead to a better quality of life of people and most importantly how does it improve the businesses on that street. We did a wonderful impact assessment collaborating with the government agencies, prepared a report and we installed sensors on those streets. We don’t have to look to some street in London or Australia or some other place to talk about how these pedestrianized streets will benefit. We have created our own example.

In a similar way, if we can create an example for MaaS in any one of the cities in India.

-Prof. (Dr.) Ashish Verma

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