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MaaS APPEAL: the Meta Transformation of Mobility Arrives in Michigan

By Posted on September 15, 2016

Susan Zielinski
Managing Director
SMART at the University of Michigan

Before we dive in to what’s happening with MaaS in Michigan, let’s describe what it means. Here is a snippet from Wikipedia:

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) describes a shift away from personally owned modes of transportation and towards mobility solutions that are consumed as a service… This shift is fueled by a myriad of innovative new mobility service providers such as ride-sharing and e-hailing services, bike-sharing programs, and car-sharing services, as well as on-demand “pop-up” bus services… On the other hand, the trend is motivated by the anticipation of self-driving cars…[and the] integration of multiple modes of transport into seamless trip chains, with bookings and payments managed collectively for all legs of the trip…

At first it doesn’t seem so earth shattering. It just makes sense–not rocket science per se. It’s a bit like our own personal customized portfolios of communication technologies and social networks, only it’s made up of mobility elements we already know, or are seeing emerge. And it should really exist already. Especially because it’s not really new (in theory at least) — systems-type innovators have been thinking about this and pressing for it for over 30 years (I admit I am one of those), and even implementing it to some extent. So what makes it particularly meta, and transformational – now?

First, it’s now possible. The parts (ITS, shared use, autonomy, new business models, new policy models, new demographics, new cultural norms and preferences, and new narratives) are all evolving individually at a breakneck pace, but at the same time they are migrating toward each other making the whole bigger and better and more commercializable (therefore possible in a world of shrinking public resources). In some ways, ICT could be seen as a new transportation infrastructure, laying the groundwork to enable the full MaaS systems of systems, and even supporting better and more connected physical design.

Second, because of the above, MaaS (and roses by other names – on demand transport, new mobility, smart cities, the list goes on) are actually starting to show up on the streets worldwide. Albeit still significantly less on the streets than in the tremendous buzz around MaaS but that is a subject for a future blog.

Third, speaking of roses, it finally has a name that describes exactly what it is. Mobility…as…a…Service. Gotta love those Nordics.

But in the midst of significant and admittedly exciting hype, there’s something important we often overlook. MaaS (and MaaS-like) is just inherently meta. First of all, in its focus on the whole person, the whole city, and the whole economy. It’s not just the car driving, or just the bus riding, or just the bike riding part of the person. It’s not just the transit providing, or car selling, or sidewalk building part of the city and local economy. It’s about meeting whole user needs from door to door in an almost mode or service agnostic way, provided that a wide range of modes and services are actually available and seamlessly connectable and interoperable.

And that’s the other part of the equation: it takes a village. The whole system (not just the planning department), and the whole industry cluster (not just automotive, not just IT) are required to serve the full range of needs of whole people and whole economies. Pretty meta.

So how is MaaS doing around the world and in Michigan? To find out, join us in September for the upcoming Michigan MaaS Trade Mission Week activities happening September 26 – 30 where national innovation, industry, and research leads from some of the most trailblazing of MaaS countries (Finland, Sweden, Scotland) will descend on Michigan to explore joint projects, ventures, deployments, demonstrations, collaborative research and tech transfer, and more. We hope you can make it in person, but if not, please stay in touch for news of trade mission outcomes and Michigan-based MaaS developments.

Meanwhile let me share a quick snapshot of some of the MaaS-like work we’ve been up to at SMART. Thanks to Ford Motor Company, we have established a project geared to accelerating the demonstration-learning-deployment cycle of MaaS ventures and on the ground projects globally.

We plan to advance this project together during MaaS Week. Our work benefits immeasurably from the small international partnership we steward among innovation leaders in Finland, Sweden, the U.K., Austria, Michigan and beyond (yes we do know Michigan is not a country). And lucky us! Our friends at Next Energy are the key Michigan-based representatives on this international working group and co-hosts of the MaaS Industry Trade Mission on Tuesday September 27. We hope that we’ll see you in September at any or all of the MaaS Week events.

And if not, that you’ll keep in touch if MaaS does appeal.

Thank you!
UM-SMART extends special thanks to our generous sponsor, Business Leaders for Michigan, for support of Michigan MaaS Mobility Week and Trade Mission. Many thanks also to Michigan-based collaborators and supporters including NextEnergy, Techstars, and more.


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