Mobility as a Service (MaaS) in Rural Areas and the Importance of Public-Private-People-Partnership (PPPP) Networks in its Implementation
Long distances and narrow flows of people and material, as well as tightening budgetary constraints, make it difficult to implement Mobility as a Service (MaaS) in rural areas. In this respect, Public-Private-People Partnerships (PPPP) must be formed using stakeholders from businesses, the public sector, and individuals to improve mobility services if rural MaaS is to be deemed successful. To improve MaaS within rural areas, pilot programmes with impact assessments should be conducted, and best practices should then be implemented. Additionally, the distinct qualities of rural communities should be considered in legislation and financing. Since technology is an enabler of efficient MaaS, regardless of urban or rural environments, digitalisation of data linked to mobility sources and the use of open and well-defined interfaces is recommended. Finally, to encourage the creation and implementation of new MaaS within rural areas, toolkits for MaaS development should be established.
MaaS is predicted to have several environmental benefits, including a shift from individual driving to public transportation and sharing services, an increase in multi-modal trips, increased resource efficiency, and lower emissions. MaaS is frequently designed and developed from an urban environment perspective, with rural areas receiving less attention. However, in many modern countries, a considerable proportion of the population resides within rural areas. Rural areas also encompass huge geographical expanses with public transportation coverage in these locations being minimal. As such, MaaS concepts designed for and successfully implemented within urbanised areas are not generally suitable for MaaS within rural areas. This is mainly due to the difference in population distribution (between urban and rural settings), large distances that must be covered, and low-capacity utilisation rates.
Benefits and Shortfalls of Rural MaaS and PPPP Networks
Congestion and pollution, whilst prevalent in urban areas, are also challenges in rural areas with MaaS for rural areas thought to have the same positive impact on air quality and traffic as seen in densely populated metropolitan areas. Citizen population density is lower in rural areas compared to urban areas which can result in the isolation of certain groups of citizens if they do not have access to private vehicles. By offering MaaS which has been well defined through consultations with PPPP networks, citizens will have access to transportation that can help maintain a good quality of life. Furthermore, MaaS for rural areas and small towns have an entirely different case for investment compared to metropolitan areas. Hence specific rural MaaS schemes could be the key to developing and maintaining vibrant rural economies by supporting better access to services like education, health, training, and employment.
There are complex challenges associated with the implementation of MaaS within rural areas. Some obstacles that need addressing are the lack of transportation options that have a disproportionate effect on underprivileged populations, economic stagnation, reductions in public services, and the health consequences of isolation and loneliness. Due to these issues, as well as the loss of many subsidised rural mobility solutions (trains and buses), local governments are looking for dependable, effective alternatives to connect rural communities. In some rural areas of the UK for example, public transport has virtually disappeared or if still existing, it is prohibitively expensive and infrequent with little integration with other modes of transportation. This subsequently correlates well with higher levels of car ownership within rural areas compared to urban districts. Furthermore, MaaS relies on network connectivity which can be lacking in some rural areas, with some modern countries still not being able to provide reliable mobile connectivity in rural settings.
Current Rural MaaS Projects formed using PPPP Networks
In early 2020, ViaVan, a joint venture between the worldwide on-demand shared transportation firm Via and Mercedes-Benz Vans, introduced a new on-demand MaaS system in Tees Valley, UK in collaboration with Stagecoach Group, the UK’s public transportation operator. After PPPP consultations, Tees Flex was developed as a transportation service that provided comfort, flexibility, and affordability while decreasing driving congestion and pollution. Using the Tees Flex app, customers hail a vehicle with their smartphones. The smart algorithms of the app allow several passengers to conveniently share the route with other customers in the vicinity making comparable trips. Tees Flex’s nine completely accessible minibuses cover an area of approximately 300km2, connecting several of Tees Valley’s rural villages.
In San Joaquin, California, USA, a planning study was implemented by a PPPP network to investigate the deployment of MaaS within this rural area. After the consultation period, three pilot concepts were identified and implemented with financial support provided by California’s Low Carbon Transportation fund. The pilots included: 1.) An electric vehicle carsharing service called Miocar in an affordable housing area in the Southern Valley, 2.) MaaS solution called Vamos in the Northern Valley in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, and 3.) A volunteer ridesharing service called Volunteers on the Go (VOGO) that served areas that were highly disadvantaged with an extremely low volume of transit service. These MaaS platforms were envisioned to combine existing and new services that would proliferate throughout the Valley area over time.
In the Izu/Shizuoka area in Japan, MaaS was implemented via the East Japan Railway Company and Tokyu Corporation after establishing a PPPP network. Despite being an attractive rural region with many tourist attractions, the rural nature of the region meant that it struggled to entice tourists. Taking this into account, the railway company began to offer services such as the opportunity to reserve and pay for transportation and tourist sites, as well as bonus offers of free digital passes and on-demand transportation facilities, via a tourist-oriented MaaS smartphone app. Real-time data monitoring was implemented to visualise customer demographics and purchasing behaviours by region and time, to revise its promotion and product strategy. This information has also been shared with other businesses thinking of joining the Izu/Shizuoka region, to help them market their endeavours.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. investigated the concept of MaaS in rural areas. The research implied that collaboration amongst relevant stakeholders (PPPP networks) was a critical enabler of rural MaaS. Opportunities for rural area MaaS include combining diverse modes of transportation and establishing travel networks. The project ‘Mobility as a Service Concept Promoting Service and Livelihood Development in Rural Areas’ was co-funded by Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and ran from 2016 to 2017. The study investigated business, regulatory, and technological concerns and presented solutions based upon rural MaaS SWOT analysis, vision, and measurements. Rural MaaS was developed using qualitative data gathered through regional and national workshops, 30 interviews, and a literature analysis.
Another example of MaaS in a rural context is the AARP Ride@50+ Programme in Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Dallas, Texas, USA; and Washtenaw, Michigan, USA. The objective of the Ride@50+ Programme is to offer all public and private transportation options in one place so that the senior demographic can access health care, employment, and essential resources without driving themselves. The programme brings together public transit, taxi, rideshare, and volunteer driver options. All these services can be booked by phone, through a website or through an app. The key to success for this programme was to involve the community from conception. AARP specifically designed the system utilising the PPPP network concept, realising that if the community is not involved from the outset, the programme will not last and will not be sustainable.
The Future of Rural MaaS and PPPP Networks
Technology enablers have allowed digitisation to expand at a rapid rate. This allows trends like working from home possible which means people are less reliant on cities. It is now possible for many office workers to live and work in rural areas and these rural areas are getting a chance to attract them and revitalise their communities. Whilst depopulation of urban areas would be beneficial from reduced housing, traffic congestion, and air quality perspectives, mobility services that allow on-demand access to transportation like MaaS, facilitated by PPPP networks, will be required in rural areas going forward. Public transportation connections between rural areas and cities will also become critical in the future to support the whole ecosystem.