The Critical Role of APIs in Mobility Services
December 15, 2020 | Company Blog
Autonomy and research firm Capgemini recently teamed up for a report, “The Future of Mobility as a Service (MaaS): Which Model of MaaS Will Win Through?” The authors point out that “the concept of MaaS is simple enough: an app with a map that connects you to a bunch of transport options to get you from point A to point B with an end-to-end seamless journey.”
The simple concept belies an enormous challenge that has so far stymied implementation. “Despite the enthusiasm of cities and companies in the sector, the various solutions launched have not yet achieved the full MaaS ambition,” they said. A significant barrier to full-fledge MaaS implementation is “standardization of data and interfaces,” they said. “In order to offer the various transport services, they must interface via APIs with each operator, and these operators will potentially have different repositories and data structures from one another.”
MaaS at scale, with public and private mobility options from scooters to airlines, enabling the planning and booking of door-to-door, multi-modal, multi-vendor trips involves sharing an enormous amount of data between mobility providers. Application Programming Interfaces, the APIs mentioned above, are the connective tissue of the cloud. They are bits of software that enable disparate platforms to communicate and to use one another’s functions.
Urban mobility ecosystems tend to be very fragmented. In San Francisco, for example, there are 27 public transportation providers that move people in, out, and around the city. There are also dozens of private mobility providers like car-sharing and ride-hailing services, traditional taxis, commercial ferries, and more. A MaaS app that can enable travelers to view and book a door-to-door trip to or from the city from any of the Bay Area’s 101 municipalities would need access to real-time ticketing, schedules, status, and capacity data. The app would then need to sort the trip options by convenience or price to give travelers the information needed to book a trip quickly.
As the Autonomy and Capgemini report said, APIs are needed to integrate transportation systems. Bestmile recognized early on that on-demand mobility would require an ecosystem of technologies and stakeholders to deliver next generation services—human driven and autonomous. Connections must be made between travelers, drivers, vehicles and other transportation modes but also with mobility providers’ existing operation software, traffic data, navigation systems, payment technologies and more.
While some software platforms propose only proprietary technology that limits what operators can deliver, the Bestmile Fleet Orchestration Platform features a set of open APIs that enable mobility providers to integrate services with larger private and public transport network systems. These include:
• A Booking API that allows providers to connect their own booking apps or other booking sources to the Bestmile platform. Travelers can use these apps to get service quotes and estimates, create bookings, view ETAs and vehicle locations, receive real-time updates, and change their plans. For providers that don’t have an existing booking application, Bestmile also offers a white-label Traveler App that can be customized, and that exchanges the same information with the Bestmile backend using the same APIs.
• A Transportation API that enables the Bestmile platform to connect with traveler information systems that are ordinarily displayed at public transport stations and stops. This allows travelers using a mobility service to see the status of scheduled or on-demand services they might be trying to connect with, all within a MaaS or booking app.
• A Fleet API that connects the platform with fleet management systems. Fleet supply, vehicle availability, and driver plans can be defined and viewed directly on the Bestmile Dashboard, or on an external system through the Fleet API.
• The Hermes Protocol, an open-source communication protocol enabling autonomous vehicles to connect to the Bestmile platform to exchange information and receive missions for both fixed-route and on-demand services.
More information and documentation about the APIs can be found in Bestmile developer hub.
MaaS promises to move more people with fewer vehicles by making multi-modal journeys more efficient, convenient, and attractive. Doing so will reduce traffic and pollution if more people use shared transit in place of private cars. A significant barrier to realizing this vision is the inability of disparate hardware and software used on vehicles and networks to work together.
Traditionally, transportation providers bought from a single vendor or developed proprietary technology, cobbling together solutions that were difficult to update or adapt to changing conditions. APIs enable new technologies to work together and operators to decouple systems and to implement the latest solutions as they become available.
Recognizing this, industry groups have begun to develop new standards organizations to enable systems to work together. The TOMP-WG (Transport Operator, MaaS Provider – Working Group) is a collaborative initiative to develop an API to enable communication between stakeholders in a transportation ecosystem. Another organization, ITxPT, is developing open-source communication protocols to standardize communication between onboard hardware systems from different suppliers and vehicles. Systems include GPS, cameras, passenger counting, visual displays, and more.
On-demand MaaS requires the integration of multiple technologies and stakeholders, with the ability to quickly include more players as they emerge. As the mobility services ecosystem continues to evolve, Bestmile is committed to developing open interfaces and protocols, implementing the appropriate standards as they become available, and participating in important standards bodies like ITxPT.