January 9, 2019

The disruptive movement of mobility as a service

Sampo Hietanen

CEO and founder of MaaS Global

Investments in telecommunications infrastructure are three times the amount of transport infrastructure investments. Yet, people spend 10 times more money on transportat than on telecommunications services. How surprising is that?

You may think that this is because telecommunications has been and still is going through a massive disruption due to digitalisation and mobility. While there is certainly some truth to this, a bigger reason is the direct connection between the usage of communications devices and services with the infrastructure that enables it. If people come, they will build it.

Building infrastructure for vehicles is complicated and takes time. It is also often financed with public funds and, therefore, priorities must be set through public debate.

However, a comparison to the evolution of the telecommunications industry is worthwhile. Before the mobile revolution, the price of a long-distance phone call was often the result of a political debate, not a function of demand or investment. This is still how decisions on transportat infrastructure, especially road capacity, are often made.

At a time of disruption, politics and calculations reflecting old paradigms can be calamitous. If infrastructure investments – with a life expectancy of at least 50 years – are still based on the ideas that everyone who can afford a car will get one and that the width and amount of roads are a linear function of GDP, we might be building highways to hell.

So, what would a direct connection with usage of and investment in transport mean? What would bold infrastructure undertakings look like?

It is hard. Building for the future always is.

Current projections for the future are mostly based on cars and GNP. What if we changed that and started simulating models in which people don’t own a car? What’s the optimal fleet of self-driving cars in a city with a good public transport system? How about simulating a web of urban hubs that have to be connected with buses, metros and trams, 10 car shares, three bike shares and five scooter shares, and a swarm of drones moving goods back and forth?

The future means building new towns and retrofitting old towns with new solutions to accommodate hub-based multi-modal traffic. We are entering a period of disruption and therefore everything we do should be as modular as possible, enabling change and improvement as things develop. We should also maximise connectivity to all existing modes of traffic and try to leave an opening for an interface to those we have not thought of yet.

It is hard. Building for the future always is. But, a different future is closing in on us quickly, and we are reaching a point where we must make the best of the assumptions and understanding we have right now and start building infrastructure with new settings.

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