I’m just on my way from Berlin, where I had the privilege to give a keynote speech at the Wocomoco conference. Wocomoco – as it can be seen by its name – is not just a usual conference on mobility services, but really tries to bring new, innovative and different perspectives to the table from around the globe – many great speakers and ideas, lots of great discussions, and an excellent opportunity for me to reflect.
I was really happy to see that the vision of MaaS is now becoming widely accepted as the better future. MaaS is about seamless and user-centric integration of various transport services into a single mobility service that’s accessible on demand. I am happy that the benefits of this approach are now becoming clear to everyone and that there are many initiatives underway to make this vision a reality – as it can be observed from the MaaS Alliance Map.
The discussion about MaaS is no longer about “if“ and “why”. It has moved to the next level: it is about “when”, but most importantly about “who” and “how”. And here it becomes obvious that while the vision is really great, the implementation is absolutely not easy and trivial. As a member of MaaS Alliance and a leader of the ‘Single Market’ working group, I have deep insight into the activities and as much as I would love to see MaaS accelerate into our reality, I currently see serious roadblocks ahead. The MaaS ecosystem is huge and involves digital and physical complexities and it needs to deal with specifics of each city and country. It will take time to find a sustainable and balanced approach that will handle all these complexities.
However, at the heart of all this, I see one fundamental roadblock that is starting to slow down the pace of innovation and progress. To be specific - the main roadblock that I see is the “Winner takes all” nature of platform economy. And let's be clear – MaaS as it is defined currently, is at its core a digital platform for aggregating the mobility service ecosystem. Digital platform economy brings tremendous progress and innovation to the whole ecosystem. It enables the demand and supply to integrate via digital APIs and reap all the benefits of digital economy – immediate transactions at virtually no costs and almost unlimited volume. So many benefits! And just one single but HUGE flaw. The aggregating platform is over-rewarded for its contribution to enable the digital eco-system.
There are many ways to observe this. The most obvious indicator for me is that whichever industry player I talk to (and I’ve talked to thousands of them), almost every one of them would like to be the aggregation platform. Carmakers, tier 1 suppliers, technology companies, cities, public transportation companies, rent-a-car companies, car-clubs, energy companies, even insurance companies and telcos – they all see the reasons why they should be on top of the new digital food chain. And when the time comes to be aggregated and share data, few companies have sincere interest to participate.
In my speech at Wocomoco I surprised some people with my observation, that airlines will be the first transportation sector that will implement MaaS. And the main reason for this is the fact that when an airplane is involved in a multimodal journey, somehow everyone accepts that this mode of travel is the natural aggregator. And I have explained that airlines have strong commercial interest to become aggregators for the whole travel sector, including ground mobility. However, as soon as we talk about urban mobility only, the fight goes on and sometimes the same players are suddenly unwilling to cooperate and force a stalemate.
I am an optimist and I believe that the huge benefits and opportunities of MaaS will drive new innovation that will address this stalemate position. It could be done through regulation, but I would prefer it is done using technology and new business models. It is exciting that there are already many ideas around that start tackling this problem. However, I do believe that we need to be realistic and set ourselves bold challenges to proceed. I do believe that to proceed to a truly next level of progress, transportation sector will need to take the lead and significantly redefine the digital platform economy as we know it today.