Moving MaaS: Mobility as a Service in the United States and Abroad

Today, city inhabitants have access to almost a dozen different modes of transportation. However, almost a dozen different modes of transportation require almost a dozen different apps, payment methods, and authorizing documents which can prove to be a hassle for users and operators alike.

Fortunately, there are already a couple of solutions to this issue that adhere to the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). A flexible concept, MaaS can be implemented via mobile applications to bike share infrastructure placement and can incorporate many modes of transportation as well. But how has MaaS worked in practice? For the purposes of this article series, we will examine MaaS programs that aim to:

  1. Unify transportation trip planning in a city
  2. Simplify payment methods for city-wide transportation
  3. Provide multi-modal transportation options

Because of the variety of MaaS implementation, we will focus on three cities: Pittsburgh, Singapore, and Helsinki. All three cities have experimented with or implemented MaaS, and their experiences showcase both the benefits and difficulties of changing how we think about transportation in our cities.

Pilots in Pittsburgh

In July 2021, Pittsburgh began its “Move PGH” program. The two-year public-private pilot was launched by Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure and is overseen by the Pittsburgh Mobility Collective (PMC). The PMC is a group of private, public, and non-profit actors that provide transportation services and support.

Program efforts include improving Pittsburgh’s transportation infrastructure and access to existing transit, reducing vehicle miles traveled and emissions, as well as guaranteeing communities access to previously exclusive transportation options.

The endeavor is primarily supported by $700,000 in grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the World Resources Institute. The two organizations contribute 84.8 percent of program funding. Remaining funding comes from Spin scooter trip surcharges and violation fees (i.e, an improperly parked scooter). Partners for the program include Pittsburgh’s transit provider PRT, its bike share program POGOH, Spin, Waze, Zipcar, and the Scoobi e-moped service.

One of the most innovative aspects of Move PGH’s implementation is its partnership with Transit, an app available on most smart devices. As the official app of the PMC and Move PGH, users can easily navigate shared mobility with accurate real-time data, trip planning services, and, a key point of the pilot, mobile ticketing and payment for multiple transportation modes throughout the city. Although mobile ticketing is only available for buses, inclines, and the POGOH bike-share system, the agency is soon expecting to implement the technology for light rail.

Reviewing the Results

In July 2022, Move PGH published a mid-pilot report on the impact of its efforts. In July 2022 alone, Transit saw over 63,000 unique active users and 6.2 million individual sessions. A Move PGH report made sure to note that usage of the app exceeds pre-pandemic numbers despite a 55 percent drop in PRT ridership since 2019 and more consistent ridership outside of the downtown core.

PRT also unveiled digital payment services for its bus and incline (funicular) system as a part of its Move PGH efforts. As a result, PRT has collected $3.25 million in fares through the Transit app since June 2021, almost 10 percent of their $37 million in 2021 fare revenue.

Although PRT ridership is still at roughly half of its pre-pandemic levels, other modes saw increases in ridership throughout the pilot. Spin recorded 152,785 unique users making 576,726 trips from July 2021 to June 2022, recording an average of 1,614 trips a day. Zipcar also reported a “dramatic increase” in total reservations and hours reserved in Pittsburgh, totaling just over 8,000 trips.

Ridership data revealed additional information on travel habits, and what modes are preferred for specific trips. Spin discovered that 55 percent of its trips are under one mile, and 78 percent are under 1.5 miles. Zipcar, on the other hand, noticed that users generally reserved their vehicles for longer periods of time to travel longer distances. Zipcar also reported that their users tended to decrease the number of household vehicles after joining, with users owning zero household vehicles increasing from 56 to 69 percent.

Not all modes experienced ridership resurgences. POGOH relaunched in December 2021, removing stations and infrastructure throughout Pittsburgh. Coupled with poor weather the bike share saw a decrease in ridership that only relatively recently returned to 1000 trips a day on average. However, POGOH still recorded 82,022 bike-share trips since the beginning of the pilot. Scoobi, although operating a fleet of 100 electric mopeds and securing over 11,000 trips from July 2021 to May 2022, eventually had to pull out of Pittsburgh due to Pennsylvania state regulations as well as aging equipment.

Demographically speaking, ridership on public transit and Spin mirror those of Pittsburgh. Spin recorded that scooter ridership mirror the demographics of the city almost exactly, with the caveat that men are over-represented and half of Spin users are between the ages of 18 and 24. Additionally, 35 percent of Spin users reported that had scooters not been available, they would have defaulted to private vehicle use. However, double the number of Spin users noted they use private vehicles more than transit, and only seven percent of Spin users reported using scooters to connect to transit.

Move PGH also has emphasized equity as a key part of its implementation. Transit noted a plurality of its users reported a household income of $10,000 to $39,000. Spin has worked with DOMI on implementing “Access Zones,” which prioritize scooter deployment in areas of the city that traditionally face higher barriers to adequate transportation. The seven Spin access zones, in addition to receiving a 25 percent discount off their total trip fee, also make their services accessible to populations without smart technology or digital payment methods.

MaaS-ive Reservations

Move PGH has not been universally accepted by the people of Pittsburgh, particularly its scooter component. Multiple groups have opposed the program for its alleged lack of attention to groups with limited mobility options. In October 2022, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Access Mob Pittsburgh, and the city’s Task Force on Disabilities called for the end of the pilot program. Disability groups cited that the city’s partnership with Spin has made it more difficult to traverse sidewalks littered with scooters. Additionally, only 0.1 percent of Spin users take advantage of the Spin Access program.

Although DOMI conducts routine audits of Spin and fines the company for parking and riding violations, the program only collects roughly 2.1 percent of its income from such violations. Paul O’Hanlon, a disability rights advocate and retired lawyer, also indicated that despite the city’s ban on parking vehicles on sidewalks and collecting vehicles throughout the city, many disabled residents find it difficult to navigate around the wheeled obstacles now littering walkways throughout Pittsburgh.

Additionally, not all services are available for digital payment through the Transit app. Ride-hailing and scooter reservations still need to be made through their respective applications, while buses and inclines are still the only transit accepting digital payment due to a delay in rolling out light rail payment plans.

Traveling Onward

Move PGH still has plans to improve its services throughout the city. 20 mobility hubs, areas that combine multiple transportation modes, were already opened by October 2022. The program is planning on adding additional hubs in 2023 along with clearer signage and wayfinding materials. Not only that, but a Guaranteed Basic Mobility pilot is also under way, which will provide almost-free transportation on a variety of modes.

The City of Bridges continues to cross rivers of uncertainty and experiment with new programs, and is just one example of the implementation of MaaS. Stay tuned for our next article which will explore Singapore’s experiments with MaaS.

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