Post-Virus Opportunities for Mobility Providers

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many disastrous effects on the automotive industry with forced carmakers closing plants, public transport laying idle and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft seeing trade halved.

The silver lining in all of this could be a renewed focus on the benefits of mobility as a service (MaaS) and open up new markets for providers of the service, as well as lead to new partnerships between automakers, governments and mobility start-ups. Beyond the overarching transportation vertical, Matt Arcaro, a research manager on IDC’s IoT and mobility team, sees three other areas where MaaS in a post-corona world shows promise.

Those include the restaurant/food/beverage industry, retail and grocery applications, and lastly the government sector. “In the future, the old model of filling your restaurant space with as many seats as possible may not fly and so MaaS could provide a way to reach additional customers,” Arcaro said. “Older demographics are delving into other delivery services – people are now by necessity trying it and it is pretty seamless, so I think that’s an easy win.”

For government services, particularly in regards to the movement of under served or vulnerable populations, Arcaro said he sees a sort of “Renaissance” in regards to government thinking about what MaaS could add as part of their toolkit. “There are some unique opportunities to work together with providers of e-scooters or e-bikes, instead of just starting another bus route, and be able to scale those services and readjust the mix as necessary,” he said. “That also raises issues of revenue and profit, as well as the need for financial backing from city governments.”

He said in the future, MaaS providers will have to look at new types of revenue models that have a multi-pronged model, which can support the ebbs and flows of society. “It may be not looking at rides and trips but focusing more on utilization and finding ways to keep your assets occupied and engaged during whatever the situation is,” he said. “Food delivery and other models, which were maybe seen as a side hustle for some of these bigger companies, are now becoming a primary model for building a new business approach.”

Personalized services

Piia Karjalainen, secretary general of the MaaS Alliance in Brussels, explained MaaS is a useful tool to provide more personalized services, which the crisis has shown is important for people who have to avoid public transportation because of a risk of infection. “In this case MaaS, including various options, may be of use,” she said. “In the future there might be different travel habits depending for example on external crises, and that already creates a greater opportunity for MaaS, where you are not bound to use one service every day but you have multiple choice in what you can use based on the different circumstances.”

Karjalainen also pointed out approaches to MaaS may vary from region to region and, while she expects to see an evolution of mobility services in Japan, North America, and Australia, she believes Europe will be the MaaS leader for the next few years. While the focus is likely to be on urban areas, it depends less on the overall size of the population and more on the capabilities of local governments to pull together the required actors needed to formulate strategies that tie together disparate modes of transportation. Karjalainen noted Helsinki and Antwerp as two examples.

“There needs to be a high-quality mass transit system and good pool of shared mobility options, and the openness of data and service integration is an essential component,” she said. “There are lots of opportunities in a range of geographies, but I see the focus on urban areas for the next couple of years.”

New business models

When it comes to the use of autonomous vehicle technology and ADAS, Karjalainen said the lack of concrete development timetables makes the implementation of such technologies in MaaS difficult to assess. However, she sees promise in automation providing the opportunity to develop new business models and new entities like professional fleet managers that may be linked to carmakers or other players in the automotive value chain of the auto industry.

“That could be the new way to distribute access to MaaS vehicles in the future,” she said. “The services must be designed in a way to be in a place where people are. We need to make sure automated fleets are serving public transportation hubs and that they can be easily integrated to other services.”

Sam Ryan, co-founder and CEO of UK MaaS provider Zeelo, who works primarily with providing transport for schools, large companies and to and from events, said the pandemic has turned his business upside down but that new opportunities have also arisen. “What we saw very quickly was a need in the market for managed, safe transportation. There’s the current lockdown period where you still have a need for critical workers, who still need to get to work,” he explained. “We quickly pivoted to providing safe bus transport for distribution centers and healthcare workers, using our technology to enforce no-contact policies, enhanced sanitization and driver PPE.”

He also noted MaaS software can help provide vital data regarding occupancy management and the monitoring and governance to ensure vehicles are sanitized correctly. “We also shouldn’t underestimate the power of MaaS apps and platforms,” Ryan said. “They can provide the data of how people are moving, which can help identify what potential pinch points are, and help us compliment and augment our pubic transport systems so that they don’t become overcrowded.”

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