Accessible Transport

Preview image of “Accessible Transport”
  • Sandra Witzel
  • Photos:SkedGo
TripGo helps commuters in Sydney to choose the
best transport option.

“Despite recent challenges faced by e-scooter companies, in, for example, Paris, I don’t believe it is the end of the road for this exciting mode of transport. We as an industry need to find a way to work together with governments, the private sector and local cities to smooth out current issues and incorporate micromobility options, like scooters and e-scooters into MaaS systems effectively.”

Sandra Witzel

Sandra Witzel is CMO and Board Director at SkedGo. The mobility expert is also co-founder of Women in Mobility UK, board member for the mobility section at the European Technology Chamber and a powerful advocate for accessible, inclusive and sustainable mobility.  

Could you explain the idea of MaaS (mobility-as-a-service)? 
Traditionally, commuters and transit passengers rely on different transport modes and multiple information systems to move around. For example, users may book and pay for train tickets through one digital application, but check bus schedules on another, while choosing or needing to pay onboard. This can be both frustrating and inefficient, and it doesn’t always deliver the best possible solution to individuals with specific needs.

At the simplest level, MaaS brings together all available transport options. This makes it easier for users to plan trip chains without time-consuming research. At the same time, it presents alternatives that people may have not been aware existed. MaaS effectively binds all these mobility options together into a cohesive whole to make the journey planning process highly efficient.

Yet the real power of MaaS goes much deeper than this, with increasing levels of integration, ultimately integrating societal goals. There’s also almost no ceiling to its flexibility and scalability. This means it can be adapted to most situations, from small community projects and corporate implementations to cities, entire countries and even cross-countries.

The overall goal of MaaS is to make the transport industry more accessible, better-connected and kinder to the planet.

What does your company contribute to this sector? 
At SkedGo, we are shaping the global future of smart cities and mobility by providing local authorities, transport operators and private corporations with the technical toolkit to create personalised trip planning, corporate mobility, and other mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platforms. 

Our highly specialised, in-house development experts design MaaS solutions that are tailored to clients’ specific needs. This enables them to create unique MaaS offerings suited to the end user, always with the common goal of providing more connected, inclusive and sustainable mobility solutions that encourage more people to choose public, active or shared mobility options over the personal car. 

An example of our technology is our White Label application, which is a rebranded version of the demonstration product, TripGo. It provides an off-the-shelf solution to not only enable clients to engineer a personalised, easy-to-implement digital system, it further delivers multi-modal and advanced journey planning capabilities for passengers.

What is the current state of MaaS in the EU and UK? Where do you see positive examples? 
MaaS is very much a developing industry, and the concept remains in its infancy. But, with that infancy comes potential. The industry has made great strides, particularly in Europe. Madrid-based firm, EMT (Madrid Public Transport Operator), has proved that public -private sector collaboration is possible and can be successful through its app. In London, Citymapper launched an all-inclusive pass in Zones 1-2 in early 2019, which has since been extended to include zone 6. The app has become a popular rival to Google Maps. 

Looking inwardly, in 2022, SkedGo celebrated revenue growth of 128% – much of which came through European- based projects. This reflects the growing demand for more inclusive, sustainable, and accessible transport through MaaS. 

As an example, we were chosen by Leicester City Council to develop and launch two Android and iPhone apps as part of the Choose How You Move initiative, which launched last year. The MaaS scheme offers an easy-to-use journey planner that incorporates public transport, e-bikes from Santander Cycles, Park and Ride spaces, taxis, cycling and walking routes. Active travel is a key goal of Leicester City Council’s Transport Recovery Plan, supporting residents to reduce their car use, and it’s pertinent that they have chosen MaaS technology to do it.  

Micromobility has, in more recent years, become a viable alternative to traditional modes of transport, and has largely been widely adopted in Europe’s MaaS schemes. In fact, there has been a notable shift in the way people are moving since the Covid-19 pandemic. In a recent survey by Active Travel England, 3.2 million more people regularly used active travel in England in the year up to November 2022 than they did in the previous 12 months, with walking and cycling accounting for around 20% of all minutes of activity taken by adults. This data suggests a more diverse approach to travel has been adopted by passengers, which can be paired with the conscious efforts being made to reduce carbon emissions across the continent. This presents a clear opportunity for MaaS providers to enable a more multi-modal approach to travel. 

Who are the major stakeholders in the MaaS ecosystem and what would you expect from them?
There are two ways to look at who the biggest stakeholders of the industry are. On one hand, you could argue the cities are the biggest drivers of the MaaS industry, as they manage the various pressures they experience, especially on a practical basis.

On the other hand, commercially speaking, the biggest stakeholders in the MaaS industry are active travel related – ride and bike sharing, e-scooters and e-bikes are all proving to be the most popular options. As these segments have grown in popularity, and technology has advanced, a gateway has been opened for novelty transport options like demand responsive transport (DRT) and voluntary transport, meaning an even broader scope of transport options is becoming available, further reducing the need for private cars.

It’s really interesting to see bigger companies like Uber moving into the MaaS and micromobility space by incorporating active travel options into its apps.

Will AI tech be a major driver for the progression of MaaS?  What are possibilities and challenges in that field?
Artificial Intelligence can provide industry-changing insights on mobility utilisation and population movements in urban areas, where it’s estimated that 50% of the population currently live. With this figure forecast to increase by one and a half times by 2045, cities will require greater support to manage new demand. AI is an effective way to keep track of data and begin to anticipate demand and then automatically apply appropriate supply. 

MaaS platforms, which often integrate AI, collect vast amounts of data on user behavior and transportation patterns, which can be used to improve service quality and efficiency and report to transport planning and policy.

That said, there are challenges the industry needs to overcome to truly be able to benefit from more advanced forms of AI technology. The first is the technology itself and the support needed to run it. While it’s available in theory – like self-driving cars – significant investment, and changes in regulation, is needed in order to implement the technology and be able to benefit from it commercially and in practice. 

That brings me to differing standards and regulation. As AI is so new to society there needs to be a high degree of adaptability as projects are rolled out slowly, city by city. As we know, many individual areas have unique regulations and societal norms, and the technology needs to be able to adjust to fall in line with these restrictions, or regulations need to be altered over time. Which will come first is hard to tell. 

How can we make our mobility more inclusive? 
There are many ways that the mobility industry can be made more inclusive. Advances in technology, such as  artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, wireless technologies and more are enhancing our transport capabilities, utilising large amounts of data and insights to optimise user experiences. This means it is becoming more possible to create smart, inclusive cities that everyone can navigate with an equal level of ease, not just those who are able-bodied. 

MaaS has an incredibly important role to play as technology advances and we become more aware of the need to facilitate change. This is particularly true given that transport is 15 times more difficult for people with disabilities. Such difficulties are precisely the type of unmet need that MaaS and other technologies are well positioned to address, with the potential to help people with ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ disabilities, the elderly, low-income families, ethnic minorities and all genders.

With the continued development of AI, machine learning and advanced algorithms, the mobility experience will become hyper-personalised bringing with it the opportunity to meet individual requirements at an increasingly granular level. At SkedGo we prioritise tailoring our technology to meet the specific requirements of people with disabilities, as well as minority groups or particular geographical areas such as rural communities, that don’t have access to the same transport infrastructure and systems as larger cities. As an example, we are developing MaaS applications with advanced accessibility features for Feonix – Mobility Rising, a US-based non-profit organisation working with transit authorities, communities, and major corporations to alleviate mobility barriers for underserved communities. The aim of the project is to bring together all operators in the region and provide easy access to their services for the local community.

Are there any MaaS ideas for the challenges of the Global South? Who are the major players in that field? What are their ideas?
It is not surprising that, in many cases, developing cities, many in the Global South, are facing more drastic problems related to transport compared to cities in developed countries. 

A WRI working paper from 2019 found that in places like Mexico City and Johannesburg,  up to half of the people living in the cities had restricted access to transport, directly leading to high travel burdens and loss of opportunity. 

This lack of access primarily affects both the low and low-to-medium income families living on the outskirts of the city, like the suburbs. Instead, they rely on private cars, motorbikes and informal transport links to get them through long, congested commutes. 

Among the most significant differences between transport in developed and developing countries are differences in available (mass) transport infrastructure, and government’s ability to build and maintain them. We believe there is potential within this environment for innovation, and for MaaS systems to develop – not least of all because mobile application usage is prolific in these regions. Already alternative forms of transit such as carpooling, ride-hailing, and bicycle, and e-scooter sharing are popular. Bringing these forms of transport together in one, unified system, is the challenge. And for this, there is a need for better collaboration between the private and public sector.