Trafi Talks with Daniel Reck

Daniel Reck is a researcher at ETH Zurich. His work aims to advance our understanding of emerging transport modes (shared e-scooters and e-bikes, carsharing and ridehailing) and their integration with public transport (Mobility-as-a-Service, mobility hubs) to inform policymaking that creates more efficient, sustainable and equitable cities.

As part of our Trafi Talks series, we sat down with Daniel to talk about three topics he’s explored at length throughout his career (and taken from the publication he co-authored, MaaS Bundle Design):

  • MaaS bundle design
  • Behavioral change and MaaS adoption
  • Sustainable mobility 

Let’s jump right into it!

What are the key components of a successful mobility bundle design?

D: That depends on how you define success. Success could mean a behavioral shift towards more sustainable transport modes, but it could also mean commercial success. Identifying what success means in your organization and then following a goal-oriented bundle design process is probably the most crucial part of mobility bundle design. In my experience, a very simple truth holds for mobility bundle design: input is strongly related to output. For example, if you include lots of free e-scooter minutes in our bundle, you will incentivize lots of e-scooter usage. In turn, if you include subsidized public transport season tickets in your bundle, you will incentivize public transport use. Simplicity is also key to attracting and retaining customers.

A very simple truth holds for mobility bundle design: input is strongly related to output.

In our recent paper on MaaS bundle design, we synthesize 10 design dimensions for mobility bundles to assist researchers and practitioners in designing future trials and products. These design dimensions include, for example, which transport modes to include, which metrics to employ to measure consumption and budgets, the type and granularity of discounts, and further details such as subscription cycle lengths and roll-over options. We describe each design dimension in detail with practical examples from the case studies we have worked on, and further review the scope and gaps in the academic literature on the topic.

Another key influencer for successful MaaS adoption is very human: willingness to pay. How can we encourage users to do just that?

D: This is simple: if MaaS provides added value to users, willingness to pay will follow. How can MaaS provide added value? First, simplify their lives: one app for intermodal trip planning, booking and payment, instead of many. The Trafi-powered implementations in Switzerland (Yumuv) and Berlin (Jelbi) are great examples here: users can plan, book and pay for a trip with several different modes all in one app.

Second, financial incentives: MaaS bundles can offer discounts. One example are the Yumuv bundles in Switzerland. There, bundle users pay no unlocking fee for shared mobility services. This is valuable and users are likely to be willing to pay for it. Maximizing willingness to pay is complex, though, as demand for mobility is highly individual. Our studies in Switzerland have shown that including additional services can sometimes even decrease willingness to pay if users see no added value but have the feeling that they pay for it.

In general, who should be encouraging a mental and behavioral shift towards shared mobility, and how should they be doing it?

D: First, let’s clarify that shared mobility is not always good, and shouldn’t be a goal in itself. Research has shown that life-cycle CO2 emissions of shared micromobility services, for example, are worse than those of personal e-scooters and e-bikes due to lower lifetime expectancies and operational services (rebalancing, recharging).

“Efficient public transport systems will always be the backbone of sustainable urban transport.

I think a lot of people want to travel more sustainably, they just need the right tools to do so. Intermodal MaaS apps can be of great use here. Reliable, efficient public transport systems will always be the backbone of sustainable urban transport. However, we also need more awareness of the true costs of private car rides. In Switzerland, for example, TCS (Touring Club Suisse) calculated that fuel costs only make up 15% of the total costs per kilometer of private car rides. When comparing the car with other transport modes, many just consider fuel costs. This is obviously a skewed comparison that calls for correction.

Finally, employers have an important role to play. In Germany, for example, many employers provide their employees with company cars. What if, for example, they would provide their employees with MaaS bundles that include public transport season tickets instead?

Imagine a city with a perfectly functional mobility ecosystem. Walk us through this vision of perfection. 

D: In my view, five defining characteristics of functional mobility ecosystems are accessibility, efficiency, equity, sustainability and safety.

First, transport is about providing accessibility. In a perfectly functional mobility ecosystem, accessibility should be high, and it should be high not only for some, but for all.

Second, efficiency relates to how much space an average person needs to move from A to B, and how much transport is required overall. In this aspect, many cities, and cars in cities, are terribly inefficient. Micromobility and public transport are already much better. Increasing efficiency means decreasing the space required for transport. In today’s cities (and much more so in future cities), we are running out of space so we need to increase their efficiency. One way to do so in transport is reducing the number of cars. Did you know that in some cities, 20-30% of the total space is occupied by streets and parking spots?

We need to ensure that those with few alternatives don’t get left behind.

Third, equity in transport relates to situations when certain social groups benefit more from public investments than others. For example, higher income groups travel more regularly in airplanes and long-distance trains and thus over-proportionately benefit from investments in airports and long-distance train networks. With so many new mobility services entering our cities these days (e.g., shared e-scooters and bikes, carsharing and ridesourcing), we need to ensure that those with few alternatives also benefit from increasing accessibility and don’t get left behind.

Fourth, sustainability relates to total life-cycle emissions of the mobility ecosystem, which we should naturally aim to reduce. This includes CO2 emissions but also other emissions such as noise. And last but not least, safety is another very important characteristic of functional mobility ecosystems.

For further reading, you can find Daniel Reck’s papers on Mobility-as-a-Service and shared mobility on his personal website:

To find out more about how Trafi’s services are encouraging the shift to MaaS, check out our website or get in touch.

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Trafi Talks with Edeltraud Guenther: Building Sustainable Systems

At Trafi, we often like to talk about how MaaS systems can only be genuinely sustainable when they take environmental, social and governmental factors into consideration. We need to create MaaS systems that are balanced and serve a variety of needs, rather than simply being expensive and innovative solutions that are more inspiring to investors than to the actual end users who interact with them. 

Dr. Edeltraud Günther is a German economist and the director of the United Nations University Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES). Her research focuses on ecological risk management and the high cost of systems that fail to take ecological and social concerns seriously. Since Dr. Günther is an expert on the subject of environmental economics, we were happy to get her opinion on how to build sustainable mobility systems that are both economically and ecologically viable.

Trafi: MaaS concepts are referred to as the key to sustainable mobility, but we have a long way to go until mobility-as-a-service concepts are truly sustainable. What kind of issues should be addressed by the MaaS industry to ensure we’re making the right steps towards creating a sustainable future?

Edeltraud: First of all, we should be thinking in services, not in products. A different management and organisational culture across the transport sector needs to be cultivated. MaaS essentially builds upon the idea that the industry boundaries between individual and public mobility should become blurred. The automotive industry and public transport will have to work closely with governments to turn MaaS into a sustainable business model innovation, based on decreasing current resource intensity of transport systems and infrastructures.

“MaaS essentially builds upon the idea that the industry boundaries between individual and public mobility should become blurred.”

Second of all, there should be informed decision-making. Proper data governance is needed. A lot of real-time data is available nowadays in the transport sector and by various industry branches, but free, open platform data sharing is not there yet, which makes interoperability and proper steering by the public sector highly difficult.

In providing a supportive regulatory framework, governments will have to create a level playing field for all transport operators and mobility service providers. This would be in line with the UN SDGs 11, 12, and 13. Calculating the true costs of transportation would entail the internalisation of all external costs and effects of various transport means. If this is not realised, private MaaS initiatives and the industry will have difficulties in achieving the mobility behaviour shift that is needed.

MaaS model implementation helps to achieve SDGs 11, 12 and 13.

T: For Trafi, cities play an essential role in implementing and orchestrating MaaS. The reason is simple – in order to change our current reliance on car-centricity, citizens need a better alternative. In this case, “better” means holistic and accessible, without leaving anyone behind. What are your thoughts about the role of a city in leading the urban mobility revolutions? 

E: There are three parts to this. 

  1. Providing infrastructure: City governments and municipalities are key in implementing sustainable transport and enhancing urban mobility options available to their citizens.
  2. Initiating a participatory process: If they want to make their transport systems and infrastructures more accessible, this can only be done in close consultation and participation with citizens.
  3. Setting standards: Cities should take a leading role and have to set standards for MaaS operators, enabling participation of citizens and considering the needs of individual citizens and diverse groups of society.
Involving citizens in decision-making is the key to innovation. The “Superblocks” project in Barcelona is a successful example of this.

T: One of the most-discussed topics in mobility is how to make MaaS profitable. This opens up a much broader discussion: what does it mean to be financially sustainable in the context of mobility?

E: This would mean calculating the true costs of transportation and applying the logic of least cost planning, including all steps of the life cycle and all actors.

Trafi’s note: Least-cost planning methodology is a relatively new type of logic employed by economists to make rational decisions about mobility and transport infrastructure. Based on the well-established concept of cost-benefit analysis, least-cost planning emphasizes that all of the costs that occur when planning and building new infrastructure – including time costs, environmental costs and social costs – should be on equal footing with financial costs. Part of this methodology includes considering every step of the life cycle.

T: Who ensures that competition between mobility players remains fair? 

E: Supranational organisations, states, and cities have to ensure fair competition.

In Europe, well-established public transport networks are seen as a public service that should be affordable to all citizens.

T: Is it the task of governments or companies to determine the social affordability of MaaS? 

E: Public transport is seen – at least in Europe – as a ‘public service’ to be provided by the government, ensuring that it is also affordable to citizens. If MaaS becomes part of future public transport systems (as highly digitised public transport or “public transport 2.0”), then social affordability would apply to MaaS as well.

T: Why is it important to think about mobility from a resource efficiency perspective? Which SDGs should be targeted by the urban mobility transformation, and what efforts should be increased in order to achieve them? 

E: The current transport system is highly resource-intense, as the trend towards mass-motorisation and a rising number of motorised vehicles reflects. There is a high potential for sustainability thinking to change usage and consumption patterns, as reflected in SDG Goal 12 (sustainable production and consumption). However, other SDGs like 11 and 13 (sustainable cities and climate action) as well as 9 (innovation and job creation or economic growth) are also important and highlight the underlying importance of the Resource Nexus.

Occupancy rate in transport vehicles should increase to create truly equitable mobility. (Credit: Fabian Todorovic)

In the end, there are inter-goal tradeoffs between 9 and 11 and 12 and 13. MaaS as a business model innovation has the potential to solve these trade-offs. The Resource Nexus as advocated by UNU-FLORES provides a perspective for maximising the synergies and minimising the tradeoffs between the goals.

Great potential lies in increasing the occupancy rate of transport vehicles. This is where the potential with shared and pooled mobility lies. The concept of MaaS, which brings together shared/pooled mobility with established public transport, tackles exactly this.

Curious to know more about the future of sustainable mobility and how Trafi is helping to shape it? Read more on our blog or contact us for more information.

Trafi Talks with Andreas Knie: Changing the Mobility Narrative

For almost a decade, cars were seen as symbols of personal freedom and wealth. Thanks to powerful advertising campaigns from the automotive industry, owning a car quickly shifted from being something only attainable to the upper class to the norm in personal transportation. Affecting more than just middle class and wealthy individuals, national economies even became dependent on the automobile industry.

Today, privately owned cars are a global problem. The environmental crisis and a rapidly growing urban population are forcing us to rethink our car-centric narrative. In order to transform our approach to mobility, governmental action is as important as individual awareness.

Andreas Knie, a political scientist at the Berlin Science Center for Social Research, sat down with us to talk about shifting attitudes towards mobility – something we believe is essential to transforming our society.

A profile picture of professor Andreas Knie on a white background

Professor Knie, we’re here to talk about “shifting the mobility narrative”. What does that mean?

A new mobility narrative embraces the idea of a “good life”. That essentially means a life spent travelling less frequently and over shorter distances. We can build and redevelop our cities and suburban communities to create the prerequisites for that. Shifting the narrative also means refocusing the future of mobility on the development of a multi-faceted public transportation landscape. Private automobiles are simply not the technology we’ll need to support the ‘good life’ of the future.

How has sustainable urban mobility been achieved in this future scenario?

A future mobility scenario will include multiple options: all cars are shared cars to be combined with PT, cycling, walking and other mobility modes. This is not a scenario of scarcity, but one of abundance and a higher quality of life on a small planet. In cities, motorized transport will be slower, with 30 km/h being the standard speed. This will help us create multifunctional streets and city spaces. We will build our lives and cities more around bikes and public transport than around cars.

Which institutional changes have to be made to shift us towards sustainable mobility?

Two of the most important changes are actively dismantling car-centered infrastructure and increasing regulation. That includes both drastically reducing the amount of parking spots in cities and transforming roads for cars into ones used by cyclists, public transportation and micromobility. It also means making other transport modes faster while making cars slower. Most importantly, regulation should favor shared vehicles over private vehicles.

Ghent’s city center is car-free thanks to regulation.

How can the private sector collaborate with policy makers to encourage new regulation?

Regulating micromobility is necessary, but private car traffic needs to be regulated first. Private players should be more actively engaged in reducing the number of cars on the streets in cities. For example, shared mobility service providers should work together with municipalities to expand their service area beyond the city core.

Many mobility cultures are already changing.

Close cooperation between these MSPs is necessary to create and enhance a seamless user experience. Private sector players can also actively embrace broader sustainability goals by improving the sustainability of their vehicles (e.g., in the case of e-scooters). 

What about digital infrastructure – how can we ensure that the digital realm is inclusive and fair to all?

We need new regulation for the digital realm. It’s the new basic infrastructure of our world, and everybody needs to have equal access. Power should not, as it is currently, be concentrated in the hand of a few companies. Data monopolies need to be broken – public data trusts could be an option for the future. Private players should actively innovate towards minimizing the data footprint of individual users.

How can cities and companies help change behavior and attitudes towards mobility?

In many ways, the spread of digital technologies is already leading to a change in behavior. To steer these trends in the direction of sustainability, regulatory and political action is key. When space is redirected away from cars, individual behavior, as well as social norms relating to mobility, may change more quickly than expected. Many mobility cultures are already changing, but these changes are not yet obvious, as regulatory and spatial frameworks are still designed for cars. The key challenge is to increase public acceptability of policy measures that redistribute public space. Mobility service providers can play a key role in this: By increasing the availability of alternatives, policy measures to reduce car traffic seem more acceptable to users.

Eight e-scooter companies launched the Micro-Mobility for Europe (MMfE) coalition in March 2021.

What three words or phrases best describe sustainable mobility to you?

Cities without private cars; public transport reinvented; more mobility with fewer trips.

Curious to know more? Check out our newsroom for more sustainable mobility content or get in touch.