In the summer of 2021, Pittsburgh launched a two-year pilot program that reshaped how its residents get around town. By bringing together a variety of mobility services, ranging from electric scooter rentals to public transit, and making them available to residents via a single smartphone app, the city reduced people’s reliance on personal vehicles.

What Is Mobility as a Service?

Mobility as a service integrates various transportation options and operators under a digital platform like an app to make getting around urban areas easier.

The program, Move PGH, is just one example of the growing mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) trend. MaaS is making transportation more reliable and accessible in Pittsburgh, and easier for the city’s residents to use, according to Rylan Seifert, a policy analyst for the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure

“What we’re doing is bringing together all of our transportation providers in Pittsburgh under this one umbrella to coordinate better collaboration between these groups,” Seifert told Built In.

Essentially, when people in Pittsburgh need to go somewhere, they can open one app and plan their trip around town seamlessly.

 

What Is Mobility as a Service (MaaS)?

Mobility as a service brings together a variety of transportation operators into a single ecosystem of mobility. (Think of MaaS as the sun, while ride-share companies are the planets that orbit it.)

Like most other “as-a-service” business models, MaaS users just pay for what they need, like a trip to the grocery store using a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft, or a visit to the doctor via a shared electric scooter or bike. Mobility-as-a-service apps allow users to access an array of transportation options available in a city, typically showing availability and arrival times as well as offering a payment system.

“I think it’s about providing something that’s also accessible and more convenient than current means of transportation.”

MaaS is a “user-focused way of providing mobility for different needs,” Chris Stoffel, director of studio engineering at Zoox, a MaaS company currently testing a line of robotaxis, told Built In. “I think it’s about providing something that’s also accessible and more convenient than current means of transportation.”

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How Is MaaS Being Used?

For the most part, mobility as a service is being used to make transportation and mobility services easier for people to use.

In Pittsburgh, the city’s department of mobility and infrastructure partnered with Transit, a MaaS app that residents can download to access transportation options. Once you enter your destination, the app will show you transportation options and arrival times as well as the nearest locations for scooters and bikeshare stations and real-time public transit information. 

Currently, mobility services include Pittsburgh Regional Transit; POGOH, an electric bike rental program; Zipcar, a car rental company; and Spin, which provides electric scooters. The city has also created 50 mobility hubs where these services are located and can be accessed. 

“You have everything you could want in one physical space, and then also in digital spaces, using the Transit app,” Seifert said. “You can unlock a bike share, you can get a bus pass and view all the arrival times all from one digital space as well.”

According to data from a mid-pilot report released over the summer, each of the mobility services, except for public transit, grew over the first year of the program. POGOH added new bikes and stations in the city. Zipcar added cars as well. And Spin did the same after experiencing high use from residents.

In a survey of more than 2,200 Spin users, 35 percent said that scooter trips replaced trips they would have normally used a car for — the equivalent of 257,000 vehicle miles, the report stated. 

In 2017, Helsinki, Finland, implemented a MaaS program as a way to curb emissions and help achieve the country’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035. More than 2 million trips had been booked using the city’s MaaS app, Whim, the first year, with six percent of the residents using the app to get around, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released last year. As a result of Helsinki’s MaaS program, 12 percent of Whim users no longer used their personal vehicles, while others were strongly considering doing the same, the report stated.

Similar MaaS programs in the cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden, also saw residents giving up their cars. In the Gothenburg pilot program, personal vehicle use dropped by 50 percent among participants.

 

Benefits of Mobility as a Service

MaaS may prove to be a viable way to reduce people’s reliance on car ownership, which could curb emissions, congestion and transportation costs in cities. 

For Stoffel of Zoox, one of the most significant benefits of mobility as a service is convenience. Much like the personal vehicles parked in people’s driveways, a MaaS option can cover basic transportation needs of an individual or family during a typical day, Stoffel said, without all the hassle of owning that car — like parking, maintenance and depreciation. 

“I think people will start to question, ‘Oh, do I actually need to have my own vehicle for these needs?’” Stoffel said.

It’s the same with electric scooters, rideshares, carshares, bikeshare and public transit, and while all these services have been available as standalone transport options, having them all under one app makes them more accessible, especially if you have a city or municipality, pushing it, as Pittsburgh and European cities like Helsinki have done. 

“Mobility is a very important part of our lives,” Stoffel said. “And we’re seeing that demand growing in every city, in every area. Even in places it’s already been established, it’s continued to evolve.”

 

MaaS for Greater Equity?

MaaS also has the potential to make transit more equitable for low-income residents in cities.

In a survey of its users in April, Transit, Pittsburg’s MaaS app, found that users were more likely to be non-white and low income, compared to the majority of city residents. Nearly 18 percent had a yearly household income of less than $10,000, while just over 37 percent earned less than $40,000. Also, more that 65 percent of respondents said they didn’t own a car, according to the mid-pilot report.

According to Seifert, all four of the transportation operators offer a low-fare program. POGOH, the bikeshare program, offers a Justice Pass for $10 a year, and other operators offer similar discounts. The city also set “access zones,” which the city has identified as “transit deserts” where car ownership is low, and where discounts are automatically applied for trips starting out of those areas, Siefert said.

 

Mobility-as-a-Service Companies

Here are a few companies helping grow MaaS around the world.

 

Moovit is one of the most popular mobility-as-a-service apps available. It has 1.7 billion users across all its platforms and operates in 112 countries and 3,500 cities, according to the company website. Tampa, Florida recently partnered with Moovit to launch a MaaS pilot program, which will link electric bikes, scooters and the city’s public transit system with the Moovit app, to help curb transportation costs in the city. “The cost of travel, both financial and time cost, is going up across Tampa Bay,” Vik Bhide, City of Tampa’s mobility director, said in a release. “With the Moovit app, the City of Tampa is trying to make it as easy as possible to get people where they need or want to go.” 

 

The electric scooter rental company Spin operates on college campuses and in cities across the United States and Europe. The company, which is owned by Ford, introduced its first fleet of scooters in Seattle in 2017 and now operates in more than 40 U.S. cities and more than 25 college campuses. Its Spin 6 scooter has a range of 40 miles on a full charge and maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. Spin is aiming to be carbon negative by 2025, according to its website.

 

Transit is a MaaS app that consolidates different mobility options in a single digital space to make transportation more accessible and easier to navigate in more than 200 cities. Working with transit departments and organizations, as well as mobility service providers like bikes and scooters, Transit provides real-time information about public transit as well as locations for partner operators and payment options for mobile bus passes.  

 

Maybe one of the most well-known MaaS companies, the ride-hailing company Uber operates in more than 10,000 cities around the world. The company, according to the website, is pushing to become a “zero-emission mobility platform” by 2040 in an effort to curb climate change, with all rides occurring in zero-emission vehicles, public transportation or micromobility options like electric scooters and bikes.

 

Zipcar is a carsharing service where users can rent a car by the day or by the hour. Gas, insurance and up to 180 miles of driving are included. According to the company’s website, one Zipcar translates to 13 less personal vehicles on the road, while 90 percent of users drove 5,500 miles or less per year, amounting to 32 million gallons of oil saved.

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