I was a panellist discussing the barriers to mobility as a service (MaaS) at the Transport Ticketing Global (TTG19) conference in London in January. In fact, many of the presentations over the two-day conference were about MaaS and reasons why it is proving very hard to deliver. Perhaps one of the most mature MaaS offerings is the one from MaaS Global branded as ‘Whim’ which launched in the UK in the West Midlands but, by their own admission, has struggled to gain a foothold.
Until recently, MaaS providers have avoided London. We have seen some excellent journey planning apps exploiting Transport for London’s (TfL) open APIs, but nobody was going that extra mile and actually proving a complete MaaS solution in a single app that allow both planning journeys together with payment and ticketing (i.e. proving authority to travel when entering the transit network). TfL has been very clear that they will not provide any cut of the fares to MaaS providers, so they will have to find other ways to make a profit.
So, the announcement from CityMapper that they are about to launch a MaaS solution in London surely doesn’t make any sense? Given the above barriers to MaaS and the high complexity of London’s public transport network, why on earth would you start there?
The answer is payments and identity, two of our favourite topics. These are services needed in order to offer account-based ticketing (ABT) and ABT is a corner-stone of MaaS. Passengers need to identify themselves to their customer account so that their journey charges can be calculated. Payment for the journeys needs to be handled in a way that is suitable to the particular customer.
One of the barriers I suggested on the TTG19 panel is that payment and identity are too ‘closely coupled’ in modern account-based ticketing offerings. I am old enough to remember the emergence of service oriented architectures in the ‘noughties’. The idea was that by ensuring services are ‘loosely coupled’, they can freely evolve without affecting consumers or implementations. I argued that if everyone rushes to implement the open-loop payment models with the payment networks like TfL has done, then we will be left with fare collection services that are highly dependent on the payment schemes and constrained from evolution. The identifier the passenger uses at the gate is their bank card (or its emulation on mobile or wearable devices). This identifies them to their ABT travel account but it also identifies their means of payment. Some would say this is convenient, I am suggesting it is too closely coupled and will stifle innovation.
Open banking APIs are a subject close to our hearts at the moment. The APIs are very new and they seem not to be thinking about transit payments at this stage. However, one could imagine that there could be future open banking APIs that would allow passengers to consent to transit payments from their bank to their MaaS provider without the need for the payment networks in between. I expect this will be subject of future blogs or white papers from Chyp.
The reason CityMapper is launching in London is that all the public transport modes accept open-loop payments and the CityMapper solution to payments and identity is to provide their MaaS customers with a Mastercard-branded prepaid card, ‘Pass’. CityMapper will offer a subscription model at a discount on TfL prices and any travel on TfL modes outside of this will simply use the prepaid bank card like any other.
This works for all London public transport modes, but there are very few other cities that have committed so totally to the open-loop models. It will be interesting to see whether CityMapper can make a profit and if they do, whether they can replicate it outside of London. Right now, it looks like they are using investment funding and planning on taking a loss to start with since they are offering to undercut the TfL fares and as stated above TfL has said they will not offer discounts to Maas providers. Or perhaps city mapper is planning on selling advertising space or plans to sell anonymised travel data to make up the shortfall? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, may all your transit tokens be loosely coupled and your payment instruments plentiful.