What should MaaS be in regional towns and rural hinterlands?
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) offers a strong chance of improving transport access to services, both local and more distant, within the context of encouraging fairness and equity, and contributing to overall sustainability. However, MaaS in an urban context is a quite different prospect to its use in rural Australia. The iMOVE project MaaS blueprint design for regional towns and rural hinterlands investigated what would be required for this different context, and the final report for the project, along with a number of appendices, are available below.
This project was undertaken with Transport for NSW, and the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies. The work here built on findings from the earlier Sydney MaaS trial project, plus consulted international evidence, and new data specifically collected from stakeholders in regional town and rural hinterland (RTRH) settings.
A key focus of this blueprint is to set out the critical role of governance and the central role of government in enabling and supporting the development of stakeholder roles, including community support and the trust of private partners.
What is MaaS?
Still a relatively new transport field, MaaS has had something of an evolving definition, and it would be helpful here to include an up-to-date definition.
MaaS is a framework for delivering a portfolio of multi-modal mobility services that places the user at the centre of the offer. MaaS frameworks are ideally designed to achieve sustainable policy goals and objectives. MaaS is an integrated transport service brokered by an integrator through a digital platform. A digital platform provides information, booking, ticketing, payment (as PAYG and/or subscription plans), and feedback that improves the travel experience. The MaaS framework can operate at any spatial scale (i.e., urban or regional or global) and cover any combination of multi-modal and non-transport-related multi-service offerings, including the private car and parking, whether subsidised or not by the public sector.
From: Mobility as a Service (MaaS) – Going Somewhere or Nowhere? Transport Policy, 111, 153-156. Hensher, D.A., Mulley, C., & Nelson, J.D. (2021).
It’s important to again note the quite different needs of MaaS in a rural setting as opposed to its urban sibling. This RTRH blueprint takes a multi-service approach, including modes not yet present in the rural and regional landscape and non-mobility services, and recognises that the car will play a larger role in RTRH MaaS.
This project had four strands of work.
- First, a review of MaaS and MaaS-like programs in a rural context in Finland, Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands, and the USA.
From here, the focus and work was narrowed, to the NSW rural and regional context.
- 17 in-depth interviews conducted with supply-side providers and organisers in the three locations selected for detailed study (Dubbo, Nowra, and Coffs Harbour). These interviews yielded valuable insights into the perspectives and experiences of stakeholders who could be involved in MaaS provision in these areas.
- End-user group discussions with 45 participants, which included a “pencil & paper” survey, conducted in the same three locations. This approach engaged directly with end users and captured their mobility barriers, feedback, and suggestions, contributing to a deeper understanding of their mobility needs and expectations.
- Finally, a NSW-wide online survey targeting residents of the 16 regional cities (Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Coff Harbour, Dubbo, Grafton, Griffith, Lismore, Nowra, Orange, Parkes, Port Macquarie, Queanbeyan, Tamworth, Tweed Heads, Wagga Wagga)
Urban vs rural
As mentioned, something of a starting point for this project was the MaaS project run in Sydney in the period 2019 —2021. From here the challenges of providing MaaS in a rural setting were divined. These include:
- varying levels of access to digital infrastructure
- variance in knowledge and skills required to use digital systems
- vast distances
- lower population density
- different demographics with aging populations
- a lack of modal integration, private car dependence
- socio-economic precarity
- rticular note was made of the difference between MaaS in a rural and regional context and in an urban context:
MaaS is usually considered an urban concept where there is a core local public transport offering and a wide variety of shared transport providers. MaaS in a rural and regional setting is much less likely to have public transport as its core and thus, more attention needs to be given to the role of the car as a potential shared collective vehicle.
Appropriately, the literature review honed in on MaaS in regional contexts, focussing on examples from Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA, Scotland, and Japan.
Comment was made in the literature review that for MaaS in a rural context in other countries there was a preponderance of short-lived pilot projects. Additionally, it was found that there was a wide variation of targeted users and trial participants, and therefore “Lessons learnt and transferable policy is therefore more limited than the number of schemes in existence might suggest.”
That said, some success stories were identified, examples including:
USA – Tompkins County, Ithaca, New York, has been working on MaaS initiatives since 2010. The county is home to several small urban and rural communities as well as Cornell University. With Federal Transport Authority funding The Tompkins County Transit Authority has developed a MaaS strategy in phases, with Phase 1 dedicated to the development and implementation of early multimodal mobility services, including:
- Multi-modal trip planning to enable the integration of bus services and shared use services (car share, bike share, paratransit, taxis and TNCs)
- Growing the supply of rural mobility services via the promotion of carpooling, transportation services and a first / last mile pilot project; and establishment of a multi-modal customer service centre.
Japan – There are over 80 MaaS businesses in Japan, with some showing increased profitability and ‘Rural MaaS’ businesses account for 80% of Japanese MaaS companies.
Finland – The Finnish Rural MaaS project was led by The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland to create a national vision for MaaS in rural and sparsely populated areas. An important outcome was to improve awareness of the MaaS concept in rural areas by sharing knowledge, and by providing recommendations for developing mobility regulations as well as the technical aspects of MaaS. Importantly, the project defined a vision for rural mobility: “Ensure for everyone adequate mobility services and accessibility relative to well-being, [and] cost-efficiently with an appropriate service level”.
Research from stakeholders revealed that the following are important considerations in these endeavours:
- A need for a better integrated transport system is recognised by all.
- Availability of multiple vehicles (including the private car) that are not being used as much as they could be.
- A one-stop-shop for travel is very much welcome and identified as the key selling point.
- A co-designed and phased implementation approach is considered necessary.
- Rural and Regional MaaS should not be fully reliant on a digital app.
The regional MaaS blueprint
The Blueprint section of the final report seeks to present:
… a vision for how transport services in rural and regional areas in the NSW context could be better organised to meet the needs of residents and visitors. The Blueprint features a mobility framework for Rural and Regional MaaS which is multi-modal (including all modes available, including the private car) and multi-service (e.g., non-mobility services such as parcel deliveries, library services, food and medicine distribution, media streaming). The Blueprint also provides a focus on decarbonising transport and combatting social exclusion.
Factors informing the blueprint include:
- The critical role of governance
- How is Rural MaaS different to Urban MaaS?
- Lessons from good practice
- The spatial coverage of Rural and Regional MaaS
- The modal landscape and implications for funding
For the implementation and running of MaaS in a rural and regional context the following recommendations were made:
- Regional and Rural MaaS should be built on a mix of car-based (e.g., carsharing, ridesharing, community transport) and potentially more flexible forms of public transport (On-demand bus).
- Traditional booking methods such as phone reservations should be included alongside digital options for Regional and Rural MaaS. Given the impact of COVID-19 on technology usage, particularly the increased use of QR codes and smartphones, it is likely that the technology usage gap will become less significant in the future.
- Reducing social exclusion and improving well-being come to the forefront as very important objectives that can be enhanced through a MaaS framework in a regional and rural setting.
- Closer integration between various mobility services could facilitate and influence travel behaviour, enhancing user experience, accessibility to surroundings, modal shift, and increase trust in public transport.
In broader terms, the final report highlights the transformative potential of MaaS in rural and regional areas, including:
- The potential for improved accessibility;
- The potential for enhanced user experience; and
- The importance of tailored solutions.
Download the final report and associated documents
There are a number of documents available for download for this project. Please click the links below to view or download.
Final report and Executive Summary
- Design of a Regional Town and Rural Hinterland Blueprint: Final report on the project outcomes
- Design of a Regional Town and Rural Hinterland Blueprint: Executive Summary
- Annex 1 – MaaS in a regional and rural setting: Recent experience
- Annex 2 – The design and administration of in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and surveys with end use passengers
- Annex 2A – Summary of three locations
- Annex 2B – List of 16 Regional Cities and expected sample
- Annex 2.C – Discussion Guide – Groups with Community Members
- Annex 2D – Focus group
- Annex 3 – Report summarising the main findings from analysis of collected primary data
- Annex 4 – Stated preference survey
- Annex 5 – The MaaS Blueprint for Regional Towns and Rural Hinterlands
The Transport for NSW wrap-up article is available at: Regional Town and Rural Hinterland Blueprint
WEBINAR – 11 December 2023
iMOVE held a webinar at 11am on 11 December 2023 to discuss the findings and outcomes from thIs project. A recording of the event is embedded below.
- Sue Wiblin: Executive Director of Emerging Technologies, Transport for NSW
- Professor John Nelson: ITLS / University of Sydney (lead researcher)
- Darren Klower: Customer Category Planner, Transport for NSW
- Moderated by Cecilia Warren: iMOVE Director