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Mobility as a Service (MaaS) — the idea of renting transportation when you need it through a service–has so far been deployed in fragments. First came virtual taxis from businesses like Uber and Lyft that you can hail from your smartphone and a private vehicle appears where and when you need it. Car, bike, and scooter sharing services now offer pay-as-you-go access to vehicles you can drive or ride on your own.

For many, the endgame of MaaS is an end-to-end rent-as-you-go scenario that provides seamless access to any type of mobility service, anywhere, at any time through a mobile app. Most envision that this scenario that will ultimately eliminate the need for private car ownership — at least in cities — with autonomous vehicles on-demand available 24/7 taking you to transit stations, airports or other longer-haul services. In the mean-time, new services are beginning to appear that reshape how we think about vehicle use and ownership.


Trains, Planes and Automobiles

SBB, the federal railway operator in Switzerland, has launched a program that, for a monthly fee, includes a combination of a car, maintenance, insurance, tolls, bike sharing, taxi service, unlimited train service, and free parking at train stations, depending on the plan. Called SBB Green, the program provides an electric BMW i3 and the rest of the perks for as little as 910 Swiss Francs per month.


In Finland, the Whim app by MaaS Global allows users to plan a trip using multiple modes of travel — car rental or sharing, bus, rail, and bike with a single app. You just enter your location and destination, and you’ll get the whole trip planned, with different options for different budgets. The app is available for free in a pay-as-you go service. Subscriptions are available for frequent users in packages that include unlimited use of each mode of transit for 499 euros per month. Whim plans to integrate air transportation into the app in the future.



Car by Subscription

BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Porsche and Volvo, are all offering or planning to offer subscription services that upend traditional vehicle ownership and leasing with the ability to use any new vehicle in the brands’ lineups for a monthly fee. General Motors’ Cadillac division trialed a new Book by Cadillac program in New York and is planning to expand into more markets. The program allows you to use any Cadillac you like, for as long as you like, for $1500 per month. The price includes insurance and maintenance.


BMWPorsche, and Mercedes Benz (details not yet available) are launching services similar to Cadillac’s, and are only available in select cities.


It’s not just luxury brands joining the subscription service movement. Other manufacturers have unveiled different models at lower price points. Care by Volvo offers two vehicle options with limited mileage and you can only swap cars once a year — but the price starts at just $600 per month. Ford’s Canvas program only offers used cars, but prices start under $400, inclusive of insurance and maintenance.



Virtualizing Transit

The U.S. subscriptions programs don’t include other modes of transit and like the SBB program still they still rely on private autos as a primary means of transportation. Finland’s Whim app books your rides from door-to-door but it is unclear if all the modes of transit are fully synchronized with minimal wait times between segments. But each of these programs take steps to virtualize transit into a subscription service with which users consume mobility like we currently consume software and movies.

Some view these shifts to subscription services by automakers and transit operators as efforts to begin to shift how we think about vehicle use and ownership and to prepare us for psychologically for a MaaS-based future. The ultimate vision of MaaS is to completely digitize to the extent that we will simply rent the means of transit we need when we need it.



Managing MaaS for Good

Because cities are growing and are expected to continue to grow, the challenge for urban planners will be to move people into, out of, and within cities efficiently and affordably. So far, the additional of ridehailing services like Uber and Lyft have made traffic worse in many urban centers.

Most public agencies don’t have the budgets or the space to add more roads or more transit infrastructure. The promise of MaaS is not in the individual cars but in shared transit that moves more people in fewer vehicles. For this to work, new mobility services will need to be managed and optimized for efficiency — grouping riders and getting them from point A to point B in ways that are economically and environmentally beneficial, that are more efficient than a private auto, and that are synchronized with multiple modes of transit so that wait times are minimized.



Centralized Mobility Management

This will require more than an app that allows travelers to book rides on multiple modes of transit. It will also require an intelligence in the backend that makes different mobility services aware of one another and coordinates service delivery. A useful analogy might that of an air traffic control tower directing multiple vehicles from different providers to efficiently get travelers into and out of airports. This is the challenge that is our focus at Bestmile — building a platform can communicate with travelers, operators, drivers, and autonomous vehicles and delivers the right vehicle to the right people at the right time.



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