Digital Mobility as a Service

Digital Mobility as a Service

Source: adapted from International Transport Forum (2018) Blockchain and Beyond: Encoding 21st Century Transport, Paris: OECD.

The term mobility as a service (or the digitalization of mobility) is used to label the bundling of transportation services to users through an information technology platform. Conventionally, transportation service providers tended to operate within their respective silos, and it could be difficult for a user to move across different modes (services). Each developed its own information systems to manage its operations and related activities. These systems were designed for intra-agency use, but the information was not usually shared with other stakeholders. Thus, each transportation service provider was trying to optimize its services and market share even if more efficient transport alternatives could be available in some cases. This standard model is being challenged.

Urban congestion, difficulties in providing additional transport infrastructure, inflexible and regulated public transit agencies, and the diffusion of ICT created an environment suitable for the digitalization of mobility. It includes three major layers:

  • Transportation service providers. They include operators of transportation and distribution assets supporting mobility, namely government agencies maintaining roads and bridges and collecting tolls. Transit agencies are also a core component because of the diversity of assets they operate, such as buses, rail systems, and subways. Parking represents an important asset, including the public control of curb parking and privately owned parking facilities. Trucking companies involved in urban deliveries are of growing importance, particularly in the context of e-commerce and home deliveries (the digitalization of retail). The most complex transportation service provider is individual automobile users, which outside taxi and ride-sharing services are highly disorganized but with predictable behavior (e.g. commuting). They represent one of the most significant assets to be digitalized with navigation assistance and automation.
  • IT (data and communication) service providers. They include the physical infrastructure of ICT, such as servers, cable, and wireless networks. Through these networks, relevant information such as services, fares, schedules, origins, destinations, and capacity can be retrieved. Application Programming Interface (API) defines communication methods that enable retrieving public or permissioned information in real-time according to pre-defined standards. Large cloud-stored datasets (big data) can therefore be made available. A challenge remains the willingness of transportation service providers to make this information available to third parties.
  • Mobility service providers. By accessing the large multimodal datasets, mobility service providers are third parties able to construct customized solutions based upon virtual agents that query options based on time, modal, locational, and price constraints. The mobility service provider aggregates the information available from transportation service providers in a digital platform that is able to provide relevant choices for its users. These users can be individuals looking for solutions for their own mobility, corporations looking for larger-scale mobility solutions for their workforce, but also for the freight deliveries they generate. Public authorities can also use mobility service providers as part of their regulatory function, to monitor performance, plan infrastructure, collect taxes and assess safety and compliance.

One of the earliest forms of implementation of mobility as a service involved tolls, where different toll agencies collaborated to develop common toll collection systems across their network, mainly with the use of RFID tags. Air travel was also disrupted when online travel aggregators started offering online platforms where users could book their own tickets, a service that travel agents dominated until then. This form of disintermediation was far-reaching for the competitiveness of air travel. Bicycle-sharing services were also widely implemented in large metropolitan areas as niche support for mobility. So far, ride-sharing services have been the most effective form of mobility digitalization since they pool a large number of vehicles across entire metropolitan areas.

The digitalization of mobility has focused on a single mode (e.g. air travel, ride-sharing). The impacts of mobility as a service paradigm across several modes remain to be seen since they are facing a vast array of challenges. The most salient remains data collection and availability from transportation service providers as well as the coordination of this information into a usable platform. Further, the additional value that can be derived for users of mobility as service platforms remains unclear.