I spent a very useful day earlier this week at a hotel on the outskirts of Loughborough – a less-than-straightforward place to get to from my Cambridge base – at a well-attended, indeed over-subscribed, workshop on Mobility as a Service. This was organised by IMPART, the Transport Systems Catapult-supported Intelligent Mobility Partnership: this links four leading UK University research teams in the Midlands. The focus of this excellent day was ‘Designing with Users at the Centre of the Proposition’.
MaaS is by now a well-known concept: a flagship article in The Economist in October last year brought it to the attention of a wide audience outside the ‘Intelligent Mobility’ community. It’s a one-stop shop for a personalised package of mobility services; made possible by Big Data, by the Internet of Things, by huge increases in devices’ processing power and in the number and spread of smart devices themselves, and by the sharing economy – in short by ‘technology’. But it seems that perhaps there isn't yet agreement on its rationale. It should make money for the MaaS service providers and could well grow the market for transport operators’ services, so there’s a business proposition. It might result in reduced congestion, in journey time-savings, in more use of healthy travel modes as a by-product, and indirectly in both better air quality and more human-friendly city centres, so there’s a public policy proposition. It should make different types of travel easier, faster (over the whole journey), more convenient and quite possibly cheaper for its users, so there’s a consumer proposition, but which of these is really going to drive its implementation?
However, what is clear is that it cannot succeed without satisfying – indeed delighting – users, which is one reason why user-centred design is so fundamental. But what came over in the wide variety of excellent presentations during the day was the big spread of different types of users and at different places and different times. The research commissioned by the Transport Systems Catapult for its ‘Traveller Needs and UK Capability Study’ in 2015 identified five distinct ‘traveller types’: yet it was clear to me from discussions at this week’s MaaS Workshop that many participants believed that the same person can be a different traveller type in different situations. And that only reinforces the view that there are a huge variety of different traveller needs that MaaS must meet if it is to succeed.
While the Workshop covered UK developments in MaaS itself – and there was an excellent presentation from Transport for the West Midlands about the very exciting MaaS implementation that’s due to be launched there later this year (read about what it will involve at http://whimapp.com/uk/), many of the presentations were about aspects of ‘pre-MaaS’. By this I mean journey features that must be got right if MaaS is to succeed. Elements of a journey where if the traveller travels in the way that MaaS makes feasible – i.e. a variety of modes in a week at different times and places, but ALSO within the same journey – he or she will have ‘Pain Points’. Overcoming those different personal ‘Pain Points’ in a journey was touched on again and again throughout the day.
At the start of this post I wrote that the Workshop location was not the easiest place for me to access. It’s a long, tedious and indirect drive, so I wasn’t happy with that mode of travel. But getting there instead by train to Loughborough by the ‘normal’ route, changing trains at Leicester, would have involved getting in my car at 0515 to drive to the nearest station with car parking! So I used my trusted ‘Google Maps’ app to find another way that would allow me to leave home an hour later and still make the start of the Workshop.
“Drive to Ely station; train to Melton Mowbray, direct bus to Loughborough town centre, another bus to the hotel” became apparent as a solution. This, of course, was an inter-urban journey which MaaS will not be able to deal with until region-wide MaaS services have appeared (and these may be both complex to develop and have poor business cases), but one immediately-obvious ‘Pain Point’ that will be relevant for MaaS was town centre interchange. And, in the case of my journey, this was particularly so in Loughborough, with alternative bus stops, lack of clarity as to whether Uber is available there, and a partially pedestrianised town centre with - to the visitor’s untrained eyes - no obviously clear taxi ranks. How was I to change vehicles in Loughborough town centre and what was I to do if things went wrong so that the journey plan shown on ‘Google Maps’ on my smartphone didn’t work?
Well, things did go wrong – not badly, but enough to make me miss the start of the Workshop. My bus from Melton Mowbray was scheduled to follow-on from another bus working which got stuck in traffic in the town. So it left my stop in the town centre 10 minutes late and this was too much time to make up on the journey to Loughborough. I realised later that to have got to the Workshop in time I should have got off the first bus near the entrance to Loughborough town centre and changed there to another one for the hotel, but that was a different scenario from my ‘Google Maps’ plan. Getting alerts and interchange instructions to the user on their smart device, in a trust-building way, and so removing that particular Pain Point is going to be one of the real challenges for developers of MaaS offerings. And no doubt more will emerge as the MaaS concept gains more traction.
There are several bus stops in Loughborough Town Centre (and those shown here are just a selection). But which do I need right now, and how do I navigate to it?