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Definitions count

Reflections and open questions on MaaS


Definitions are the shared perimeter for the exchange of opinions and positions, the assessment of action and setting out strategies. For Mobility as a Service (MaaS), it’s difficult to find an unequivocal definition. There are many attempts in the literature, and a similar number of proposals always in progress, which place the accent now on the technological aspects, now on the economic ones, now on the transport and sometimes on the regulatory aspects. In the Italian context, it’s equally difficult to have an unequivocal position on whether to use a masculine or feminine article (‘il’ or ‘la’ MaaS), fortunately not a problem in English!

“ An environment where the user’s mobility needs meet the offer of multi-modal and multi-vector services ”

In an initial description, Hietanen defined MaaS as “a mobility distribution model where the client’s main transport needs are satisfied on an interface and are offered by a service provider”. Subsequently, Kamargianni and Matyas proposed a definition where the term Mobility as a Service means “buying mobility services based on consumers’ needs rather than buying means of transport. Users can buy mobility services provided by one or more operators using a single platform and making a single payment through a MaaS”.

The International Association of Public Transport speaks of a “place of integration and access to different transport services (public transport, shared services, taxis, rental, etc.) in a single digital application which is based on public transport and an efficient, active mobility system”.

Basically, drawing on these experiences, we can define MaaS as an environment where the user’s mobility needs and the offer of multi-modal and multi-vector services, that can be purchased in accordance with appropriate user profiling, meet through a digital platform.


However, if we go and speak to the various national stakeholders who are now involved in the market, or for the market, of mobility services, we find projections of their experience and professional and cultural inclinations in the personal definitions of MaaS. Recently, TTS Italia contributed to this with a guideline document, giving a general overview of definitions but also of experiences and case studies. This also talks of MaaS as “a new mobility concept which sets out the integration of multiple public and private transport services in a single service, accessible via smartphone, as the result of a platform with multiple functions and a single payment system, able to respond in a personalised way to all the specific mobility requirements and offer a real alternative to the private car”.

As a professional who has always been involved in the mobility projects area and a researcher passionate about the subject, I have to, however, try to deal with the topic using an approach I would dare to call holistic – more simply, we would say a system.

Firstly, factors are now recognised that we can define as enabling for MaaS which form a pre-condition – digitalisation, clearly but also the evolution of mobility phenomena with the increase in the quota of non-systematic movement and a corresponding rise in multi-modality as the paradigm of movement.

Factors which the current pandemic period is effectively intensifying.

[…] The traditional reasons linked to work and study account for only a third of the reasons for mobility for Italians. The many reasons for travel or ‘micro-mobility’ connected with free time (34.2%) or family management needs (28.5%) count more. However, the increase in the diversified, non-systematic reasons for the demand is a long-term process. Therefore, there is greater variation in the mobility behaviour of citizens, an effect of the differentiation process of their lifestyles. This is confirmed by the fact that about 40% of the movements made by Italians on week days are occasional, i.e. repeated less than 3-4 times a week. The traditional systematic mobility flows, and especially the commuter component, are still, therefore, greater but do not explain the whole volume of the demand. Since the start of the millennium, the weight of systematic mobility has lost more than 10 points […] ( (ISFORT, 2020).

On the other hand, the spatial dimension of mobility is one of the typifying elements for a user’s modal choices which MaaS is called on to answer.

In this sense, the literature indicates various MaaS models with a development which, on one hand, depends on the socio-economic features of the area concerned; on the other, it depends on the availability and performance of the transport offer [3]. The urban and metropolitan areas, suburban area, rural/out-of-town areas, and national and international levels correspond to mobility needs that MaaS can answer with different logics ranging from all-inclusive season ticket models down to forms increasingly oriented to ‘pay as you go’. Clearly, especially if we think of the public transport governance system, the different regional dimension is directly correlated to the type and number of stakeholders involved. The relevant government bodies (municipalities and mobility agencies, agencies in the Public and Regional Transport ambit, etc.) change, the legal instruments of government change, the pannier of stakeholders is extended, and the complexity of relations between the geographic dimension of the demand needs and the competences of the individual bodies increases.

Enabling factors, the regional and temporal dimension of the demand needs, the market logics of the different stakeholders, and the legal and administrative competences

of some of them form the ‘stage’ of three relevant situations in the transport market that we can observe – or at least, these are what, first and foremost, come to my mind.

On one hand, the market regulator acquires sensitivity on the value of the data, i.e. the mass of information at the base of a mobility service, firstly, and a MaaS lastly. The system performance data and the movement preference data take on a role for the governance of the system, the increase in the quality of the service, and the management of the service contracts. It’s a rigid tool, almost diametrically opposed to the MaaS but, to date, it’s still a government tool for LPT, which should be an integral part of MaaS. As a result, the Regulator is taking the first steps for the definition of a framework of rules that guarantee fairness and equality of access to the market. On the other hand, government bodies which, on a different scale and for different reasons are called on to plan and programme public transport and define investment priorities, recognise the need to create standard sharing protocols for information and data with the aim of facilitating the advent of MaaS or, even more, promoting MaaS federations in a wider context, in a European dimension.


However, it’s the large bodies operating in the sphere of collective and private mobility that are now moving towards a new MaaS-oriented view which valorises their infrastructure, property and technological  assets, offering new multi-modal and multi-vector mobility services through the integration, aggregation and commercial partnerships with other players in the market. Thus, it’s clear how, in a such an extensive, irregular panorama of stakeholders, with such different, sometimes diverging, aims, policies and strategies, that the definition (and we’re back to that…) of MaaS has a strategic value, we could say, a starting point that goes hand in hand with the aim to be achieved through its introduction – variation of the modal shift? Reduction of private car ownership? Increase in its market share? Evolution of its business portfolio? We can say that awareness of what MaaS is or can become will be decisive for those who set, or are called on to set, objectives of collective wellbeing in the planning of a multi-modal transport system.

If MaaS involves the sphere of public transport, if MaaS involves the large public transport hubs, if..But we can also say, and here a discussion is willingly opened, that awareness of what MaaS is or can become will also be relevant for the infrastructure designer. We can and must talk of MaaS-oriented infrastructure, both because of a conception that increasingly harmonises structure and technology and to be able to have infrastructure increasingly oriented to multi-modality.

If the infrastructure managers are looking at a growth strategy more and more oriented to mobility services, the infrastructure designer must be increasingly aware of the solutions that can integrate digital technology and the impact they may have on the functionality and sustainability of the system.

It’s just a question of finding a common definition.

Giovanni Acciaro – is an engineer and expert in mobility and manages transport system planning and regulation projects. He gained specific experience in the transport regulation authority context. He has worked with NET for more than 10 years and, today, holds the position of Innovation Director in the mobility sector.

Gendered barriers to travel: moving from understanding to action
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