20 Mar 19

A quick guide to MaaS aggregation

What’s a MaaS aggregator? And what’s the difference with a mobility platform? Terms like these are flooding the mobility space, and with good reason: they represent the future of mobility. But what do they mean? Here’s what you always wanted to know about them but were afraid to ask.

Let’s start at the beginning. MaaS is short for Mobility as a Service. And that concept itself is shorthand for a situation in which people won’t own vehicles anymore, but instead use a range of mobility services, each suited for different occasions. People will still drive cars, but they’ll be shared cars. When it’s more convenient – for example when travelling from A to B in city centres – they’ll use public transport, taxis or other chauffeur-driven options, or even bicycles.

Single interface

“A MaaS aggregator, then, is a single interface between those and other mobility solutions and the end users, allowing them to plan, book and pay different types of transport via the same application,” says Shwetha Surender, Industry Principal for Mobility at Frost & Sullivan.

The aggregator should be an easyto-use app offering seamless service, even though the various mobility products are offered by different companies. Ideally, the service is not just seamless in an operational sense, but also when it comes to the journey as a door-to-door experience. “An ideal is all it is right now. No single MaaS aggregator operating today is able to cover all first-mile and last-mile issues,” says Ms Surender. Because of the types of mobility services they offer – often including local public transport – most MaaS aggregators are resolutely city-oriented, providing their offer in one or more well-defined urban areas. 

One well-known example of a MaaS aggregator in operation today is Whim, by Finland-based company MaaS Global. Whim gives users access to various travel modes – public transport, taxis, shared bikes and cars– via a monthly subscription or pay-asyou-go. It’s live in Helsinki, Birmingham and Antwerp, with Amsterdam and other cities to follow soon.

White label 

Another well-known MaaS aggregator is Moovel, a Daimler subsidiary. A MaaS aggregation pioneer, Moovel introduced its first platform in 2015 in Austin (Texas). Moovel now offers solutions for end users in Portland (Oregon) as well as in Stuttgart, Hamburg, Karlsruhe and Aschaffenburg in Germany.

“What’s interesting about Moovel is that it’s talking to a lot of cities, both in the US and Europe, to offer its services to them as a white-label solution. For example, if they would strike a deal with London, its services would be offered as part of Transport for London (like the Tube and London’s buses, Ed.), not as a specific Moovel offer,” says Ms Surender. Just to get a sense of size: Whim has 45,000 users in Helsinki alone, and has facilitated more than 1.5 million trips since its launch in 2016. Moovel boasted 6.5 million users at the end of January 2019, reflecting a 69% growth rate over the previous 12 months. 

Whim and Moovel have captured the most attention, and perhaps also the biggest market share, but there are other MaaS aggregators out there. The handful of others include Conduent, a New Jersey-based former division of Xerox; and Trafi, which offers mobility solutions for buses, bikes and shared cars in Vilnius, and soon in Germany. 

Blurred lines

The difference between MaaS aggregators and mobility platforms is not one of size, but of type. The term ‘mobility platform’ refers to the technological framework used to deploy the service. Carsharing services like Uber and Lyft use an online, interactive platform where the demand for individualised transport meets a supply of willing drivers. 

You could say that while MaaS aggregators are by definition multimodal, mobility platforms tend to focus on one mode of transport. But that’s not a water-tight definition: Uber and Lyft themselves have started integrating third-party mobility services – bike-sharing, public transport - on their platforms, blurring the line with actual MaaS integrators.

“BlaBlaCar, the France-based long-distance carpool player, is perhaps more easily identifiable as a mobility platform, since the company restricts itself to the carpool market,” says Ms Surender. “A recap, just to avoid the confusion: MaaS aggregators allow users to plan, book and pay for a multimodal range of mobility solutions, while mobility platforms are merely the applications – usually cloud-based online apps available for smartphone – that offer mobility solutions.”

Expansive solutions

Both MaaS aggregators and mobility platforms can either target the end customer directly, or offer their services as a white-label solution for third parties (either at a flat rate, or for a payment per service).

“Both also have in common that the operators want to create as expansive a solution as possible, with many mobility modes on offer,” says Ms Surender. “But that is not as easy as it sounds. It is usually quite difficult to share APIs (Application Programme Interfaces – the communication protocols for any given application, Ed.) between various players.” 

Other hurdles that have yet to be satisfactorily overcome include concerns about data security and privacy. Significantly, a crucial difference between MaaS aggregators and mobility platforms manifests itself on the input side: “We’re talking about two different types of investment stream, two distinct business models.” Since that is not an issue that customers generally have to deal with, and considering the tendency of both systems to broaden their offering, what separates one from the other may one day become a distinction without a difference – at least on the customer-facing end.

Read the complete article in the Fleet Europe Magazine °105, focusing on Mobility as a Service.

Authored by: Frank Jacobs