Have Your Cake and Eat It: MaaS Story Part One by Jenny Milne (29 Sept 2023)
Every individual or family has their own daily routine whether that involves the school run, the commute for work, visiting friends or family or shopping. How this routine is achieved will depend upon where the individual or family not only resides but factors including but not limited to income, availability of transport options but ultimately there is an element, large or small, of choice.
The car is often the preferred mode in many areas as that choice can offer flexibility but not everyone can afford a car or indeed has a licence. Words that are unique to the transport sector to describe these phenomena include travel behaviour, trip chains or tours and there are many articles and journal papers exploring these concepts.
However, one critical factor that transport planners and policy makers have little control over is the role of the weather in the UK on travel behaviour or trip chains. Weather is such an emotive issue for the British population so what impact could this have on the adoption of more integrated transport services as proposed by the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
MaaS is a complex term with no harmonised meaning but for now, imagine and visualise a Victoria sponge cake. There are many different ingredients for MaaS, but for now, the focus is on the finished product which has two sponge layers with the jam in between.
MaaS is very similar in that one layer involves the integration of transport modes such as train, bike, bus and car whilst the top layer provides additional personalised tailored services. Within the cake, the jam in the middle represents the user as they use the transport services, while the top layer uses clever data analysis tools from layer one to offer a customised journey and tailor offerings/services to the user.
The services offered will be based upon the personalised data gathered in layer one of the cake when choosing the mode of transport. This additionality to the user is seen as ‘the icing on the cake’ by transport operators and policy makers, assuming that the user wants these additional services!
Sticking with the Victoria Sponge analogy, assuming the public is happy to cut a slice and have a piece of cake each day when undertaking their daily routine of travel, what happens when an unexpected factor such as the weather intervenes (In 2020, the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic could be described as an unexpected factor, however for the purposes of this article we are looking at, normal unexpected factors. COVID-19 was sprung upon society whereas the weather is constant).
Disruption, delay, fear, uncertainty or all concerns for the travellers. For example, can I ride my ebike on ice, is my childs school bus operating, how will I get to work, how long will my trip take, will the bus/train be operating. All these are natural and instinctive reactions on a day when the weather intervenes.
The original choices in the mode of transport are often a sub and conscious decision in that in the UK the use of an e-bike in snow or ice is deemed very challenging even with the correct tyres, however in Finland, cycling in such conditions is normal and something I’ve witnessed. Herein lies a cultural factor which inherently affects the unexpected intervention in the UK.
With this in mind, the role that MaaS in the UK can play when weather interferes will be different to other countries. As yet the role of unexpected interventions, such as weather, to a user’s daily routine has yet to be fully explored and addressed by those implementing MaaS solutions and technology.
For MaaS to be a dependable and desirable solution to the user (the jam), the unexpected interventions aren't the ‘icing on the cake’ but a core ingredient without which the cake won’t rise, and when baked, the slices won’t be eaten (user uptake is short lived), and ultimately the cake will be left untouched (MaaS will be a term assigned to history).
A successful Victoria sponge does require many ingredients but like the jam, the user lies at the heart. Without full consideration of all factors (ingredients) in the user journey/routine, we won’t be eating a nice Victoria sponge cake.
SRITC Gathering Transport Write-up by Matthew Kendrick (14 Jun 2023)
Hosting a conference is challenging; the challenges are compounded when you host a rural conference across three days at three different venues and have around 100 attendees signed up in person and around another 44 online.
From 10th to 11th May 2023, SRITC hosted a transportation conference in the Aviemore area of the Highlands and Scotland. The conference aimed to unite the voices in rural transportation to network and discuss solutions to global transportation challenges from a rural perspective.
The event brought together the private sector, public sector and third sector. Attendees came in person from across Europe, including Sweden and Finland. Online, the conference's footprint expanded even further, with attendees from America and Japan in attendance.
One of the challenges faced by our team in pulling off the conference was the logistics of moving people around the venues and to/from the accommodation.
To meet the logistic needs of the attendees, one of our sponsors, Stagecoach, provided an electric bus and driver (Michael) to provide pick up and drop off attendees.
Before the conference, we compiled a list of people’s transport needs and created a bus timetable. We complemented the schedule with carsharing. There were also attendees who brought bikes to ride from their accommodations to the conference.
During the conference, we created a WhatsApp group for the attendees. Michael shared the bus’s location throughout the day and attendees shared photos of their journeys around the area.
As people started making the journey to the conference, attendees shared their travel experiences through photos and messages in the group chat. We learnt of one attendees’ terrible luck of missing three train connects that extended his train journey across Europe to 30 hours.
Through the WhatsApp group and shared transport options, attendees were able to organically connect with each other and break the ice. The challenge of transporting people rurally turned into a fun feature of the event.
A few learnings from the SRITC Gathering of 2023 by Magnus Fredricson (31 May 2023)
One of several pleasant experiences during the gathering was a little walk from the community centre in Boat of Garten to the newly built pump track in the nearby forest.
Who built this? Asked I, as I observed the sign with instructions for use and safety regulations. This question, as it is, encapsulates a large difference between Sweden and Scotland. In Sweden the answer would invariably have been: the municipality. Or at least: the municipality paid for it.
In Scotland the third sector plays an entirely different role in society and social enterprise is a thing. Third sector actors take on professionalised roles and are expected to deliver professional services.
The SRITC itself is a social enterprise, run by a PhD candidate with a professional advisory board of which I am fortunate enough to be a part. Still several start-ups with large investments or social enterprises with research directors were a part of the gathering. This signals another societal contract.
The gathering was opened by a speech from the transport minister of the Scottish government. There are structures in place where social enterprises both influence policy and deliver insights as well as produce services.
One might, and rightly so, argue that these roles of the third sector are a must in a society where the public sector is retreating. This, however, would be an overly simplified understanding of the situation.
Public cooperation with third sector goes back a long time in Scotland, and the government has actively supported the emerging of a third sector through different initiatives such as SensScot, Social Enterprise Network Scotland, a social enterprise umbrella organisation which focuses on supporting social entrepreneurs in all walks of life in business, in government and in particular, creating social enterprises.
In fact, one of the participating social enterprises also illustrate the differences in the societal contract: Collaborative Mobility UK. They are a charity dedicated to the social, economic and environmental benefits of shared transport.
Their webpage outlines their mission: We work collaboratively with national, regional, transport and local authorities as well as the private sector to further these social, economic and environmental benefits. We do this via accreditation, research, policy, guidance, engagement and advocacy. The research presented by them is also useful in the Swedish context, where for instance the report on Digital Demand Responsive Transport issued in March 2023 has several recommendations suited also for Sweden.
In Sweden public transportation is run by regional authorities. They typically procure the actual production of transport and all of their resources are located there. Little or no room exist for local collaborations with social enterprises, if they would even exist.
One possible solution in a scarcer geography would be a “village bus” as infrastructure provided by the regional authority instead of a regular bus that serves the village maybe once per day. Driving would be the responsibility of the local community.
These types of solutions are not in place in Sweden, where the public sector in practice monopolise resources and production of mobility services as well as other services, e. g. health care, education and others. (There are private actors within the education sector, some are even co-opted.) Sharing resources and indeed power is not common for the public sector of Sweden.
SRITC, Scottish Rural and Islands Transport Community, addresses transportation in scarcer geographies. There are large similarities between Swedish and Scottish geographies. Scarcity or “un-density” is abundant. In a neoliberal, “market driven”, system for public transportation scarcity of customers will not attract solutions or services.
Bus services in rural areas are deemed “non-profitable” and shut down. Exactly what non-profitable means in a publicly funded operation is not clear. In Sweden the average funding of public transportation amounts to 50% tax and 50% ticket sales.
An economization of public transportation, for instance through procuring the actual services from private, profit driven companies, brings the risk of reducing citizens to customers, and paves the way to understanding a bus line as non-profitable.
Almost all municipalities in western Sweden will cite “accessibility” or public transport as a challenge, particularly in rural – non dense – geographies. Obviously, un-density drives cost for public transport for instance per person-kilometre.
Participants in the gathering also included representatives from national parks and other attractions. Mobility is seen as an integrated part of developing tourism or local communities, this realisation is obvious also in a Swedish context, at least among municipalities and other local actors.
The policy controlling public transportation in west Sweden does not include these perspectives at all, often times creating quite the tension between local and regional levels. It appears, at least from the perspective of a visitor, that dialogue and co-creation between different actors in different geographical scale is more fruitful, and that well-trodden paths for it exists based in the tradition outlined above.
Also, pilot-testing is an abundant modus operandi in Sweden. There is much less talk of that in Scotland. Testing, learning and continuous development are obviously key to enable sustainable mobility in scarcer geographies, but pilot-testing, sandboxing, tends to limit impact of learnings created within regular operations. A mindset based less in pilots and more in continuous testing and learning would probably be more fruitful.
Digitalisation is key, where cell phone coverage is a prerequisite for dynamic mobility. Cell phone coverage is better in Sweden. Several start-ups and more established companies supply different kind of technical platforms with different levels of integration. Standardisation, in a wide sense, is needed but the market is still immature.
Also, business models for whole eco systems of services and platforms need to be developed. Actually, the need is sustainable income models where, in Sweden, regional authorities need to play a part.
Tentative recommendations for the Swedish context would include openness toward innovation and co-creation of solution for accessibility needs in scarcer geographies. These processes, rather than pilot-projects, will need to enable a more flexible use of public resources rather than solely reserving resources for existing structures and solutions.
The market will not produce solutions in scarcer geographies, and no viable business models will be found that facilitates mobility services where customers are fewer. Budget will have to be allocated from public financing to enable solutions for better sustainable accessibility.
Orkney Trip by Matthew Kendrick (14 Mar 2023)
A few weeks ago, I enjoyed travelling up to Orkney for SRITC. SRITC is working on a project funded by Inspiring Scotland’s Rural and Islands Communities: Ideas into Action. The funding is to develop a transportation STEM project plan for rural and island young people who often miss out on urban STEM outreach opportunities. I tracked the travel process to Orkney and my decision-making to travel there.
Journey Decision Making
As part of the fact-finding trip, I put together a matrix of travel options and the main factors that I am concerned about when travelling.
In addition to the potential journeys' price, time and environmental impact, other intangible considerations impacted my decision. Airport strikes impacted flying into Orkney by limiting available flights and raising ticket costs.
Looking at the train, the main benefit of this journey was the freedom to work and relax. In contrast, driving requires 100% attention but affords the most flexibility and control over the journey.
Ultimately the matrix indicated that travelling by train was the best option. Given the journey lengths, the ability to work and relax was also a deciding factor.
During my two days in Orkney, I spoke to several organisations involved in supporting young people. I met:
Scottish Autism - Orkney
Established in 1968 by a group of parents, Scottish Autism is now Scotland's largest provider of autism-specific services and a leading authority and advocate for good autism practice. They exist to help those diagnosed with autism to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives and be recognised as valued members of the community they live in.
VAO supports the third sector in Orkney by providing advice, information and practical services. The third sector is made up of voluntary, community and charitable groups, social enterprises and volunteers. VAO is a Third Sector Interface (TSI), part of a national network.
Youth Cafe Orkney
The Orkney Youth Cafe, is a drop-in service funded by various grants and charities. BBC Children in Need & Robertsons Trust currently fund the youth cafe. We are open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to offer young people from S2-19 a place to socialise with friends and enjoy various fun activities.
International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT)
The International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT) is a research centre at the Orkney Campus of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. It focuses on developing sustainable solutions for small island communities worldwide, mainly on renewable energy, marine science, and environmental management.
The Return Journey
On my way back from Orkney, the difficulties of rural travel took centre stage. The ferry I booked was delayed due to a mechanical issue. The knock-on effect meant I missed my train, the only one travelling that day. I could leave Orkney in the afternoon but had to stay the night in Thurso to catch the first train on Monday.
It’s easy as an urban resident to make alternative travel arrangements, but in rural settings, there are limited options, and the resiliency of those options becomes significantly more important. To an extent, this is balanced by the camaraderie of rural communities. The inn owner, where I had stayed the night before, let me wait in the bar despite not being open, the ferry staff provided multiple options to rectify the missed journey, and the taxi driver pooled passengers together to get to hotels. It was enlightening to experience first-hand the topics raised repeatedly in cafes and workshops and see how they are solved at the moment.