‘Mobility-as-a-service’ can mean a brighter future for Northern transport

Si Ho, May 25, 2016 5 min read

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

This week Tech North launched the Digital Powerhouse Report, detailing how collaboration can help boost the Northern tech sector.

One example of this collaboration is ‘mobility-as-a-service,’ which could transform not just the way we get around, but help shape the future of our cities. TravelSpirit’s founder, Si Ho (Senior Innovation Officer at Transport for Greater Manchester) explains how an open approach to technology can reap benefits for the public.

So, what’s this ‘mobility-as-a-service’ thing?

‘Mobility-as-service’ (MaaS) can be broadly defined as the transition from a dominant car-ownership model of mobility, to one of paying for your mobility ‘on account.’ With MaaS, your transport needs, (usually satisfied by owning a car) are met instead by a range of services that include car leasing, car clubs, community transport, cycle and coat hire in combination with ‘traditional’ public transportation. This could remove the need and cost of running a second car, or even remove the need for owning any car at all.

The demand for ‘MaaS’ solutions is being driven by both societal and technological change. Young people today have less desire to buy a car than previous generations, and like to buy services via subscriptions managed on their mobile phones.

The global MaaS market has been valued to be worth in excess of £600 billion per year, and, linked to the transition to electric and autonomous vehicles, has received significant interest from both governments and investors.

Meanwhile, chancellor George Osborne announced in the 2015 Spending Review that he would provide £150 million to support the delivery of smart and integrated ticketing across local transport and rail services in the North.

Tech North have identified a key opportunity for the Digital Powerhouse to deliver on the chancellor’s financial commitment to ‘smart travel’ in the North of England.

The challenge

Transport Authority and city budgets are under pressure at the same time as the cost of major Information Communications Technology (ICT) systems are ballooning. Even for the North of England, there is a risk that £150 million might not deliver the North as much as we’d like, given the scale of our ambition.

Furthermore, even when these ‘Smart City’ solutions are successfully delivered, they often get ‘cemented’ from further innovation due to the high costs associated with being ‘locked-in’ with a proprietary system.

While open source code solutions have blossomed in other areas of the digital solutions space (think WordPress, Mozilla Firefox, Linux), companies proposing open source code solutions in the transport world have consistently found it difficult to advocate, amongst potential and current transport clients, the inclusion, or better still prioritisation, of open source code transit solutions in their procurement processes.

One of the reasons for this is because the open source code community is generally focussed on developing code and not on policy or creating examples of best practice. This means that policy and decision makers often have misconceptions that keep them away from open source code solutions, such as a misplaced belief that they’re not ‘secure’. Another is a previous lack of a open source business support and acceleration programmes.

How we are rising to the challenge

Engaging with the fast-moving area of ‘Mobility as a Service’ (MaaS) requires a fresh outlook. Rather than defining technology development programmes, the focus now needs to be on improving our services to customers using the latest technology in an agile way.

This means challenging institutional assumptions on ‘building on what has gone before’ and opening our horizons to new models of collaboration that make lives better for customers. For example, by taking an open source code approach we can enable fast, effective collaboration on ICT infrastructure projects.

Through consultation with the global open source coding community, we have established an exciting opportunity to take a global lead on developing a pan-city ‘conversation’ on how cities and transport authorities across the globe could form stronger collaborative working arrangements to build a ‘global commons of code.’ It’s called travelspirit.io.

This commons would maximise the benefits of MaaS by focusing on delivering a quality service to the customers rather emphasising Intellectual Property (IP) rights exploitation, which generally favours larger players who have sufficient resources to enforce their IP, and can also slow the pace of innovation due to complex ‘joint IP ownership’ scenarios.

TravelSpirit.io describes itself as 'The engine oil behind 'Mobility as a Service''

TravelSpirit.io describes itself as ‘The engine oil behind ‘Mobility as a Service”

What’s next?

We have now formed TravelSpirit Foundation, that provides project governance and leads fundraising activity on behalf of the TravelSpirit.io coding community. TravelSpirit has been accepted into and hosted in Europe’s first ‘fiduciary host’ (US alternatives include Linux Foundation and Software Freedom Conservancy), Public Software CIC.

We have appointed an Executive Board, with Lucy Yu from the Department for Transport as COO, Rob Taylor from Codethink as CTO and Alex Burrows from Alstom Rail as CEO; all giving their time on a pro-bono basis.

Our formal launch will take place at the Alliance Manchester Business School on the 28th June 2016. This daytime event will serve as an engaging ‘community design workshop’, and proceeds from ticket sales and sponsor donations will help crowdfund the next steps of activity that will establish the project as an on-going concern. Click here to buy tickets or donate.

This will be followed by the Guardian’s Public Leaders Network free event at the Museum of Science and Industry that evening, which will debate the importance of transport to the North’s economic growth. Register here to attend.

Who is involved?

Over the short space of six months, a wide range of organisations have already ‘signed up’ to support travelspirit.io by becoming supporting partners of travelspirit.foundation, contributing in a variety of ways:

Accenture, Alliance Manchester Business School, Alstom, Atkins Global, Barclaycard, BT, Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), Codethink (The Peaks), Department for Transport, Drivenow (UK), Digital Catapult partner The Landing (MediaCityUK, Salford), Digital Greenwich (London), FabMob (France), Finnish Ministry for Transport & Communications, Future Cities Catapult, GoEuropa (Poland), Helsinki Transport Authority, HiveIT (Sheffield), IDM Südtirol (Italy), Institute of Engineering & Technology, ITS UK, Local Motors (Germany/USA), Manchester Metropolitan University, Meshed Insights, Multipass (Cambridge), Mydex CIC (Edinburgh), Ordnance Survey, Oxygen Startups, Patch Penguin (Blackburn), Penrillian (Penrith), PlannerStack (Netherlands), Republic of Things (Manchester), Satellite Applications Catapult, Stratageeb, Texxi (Liverpool), Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), Transport API (London), Software Freedom Conservancy (USA), Transport Systems Catapult, University College London, University of Salford, MaaS Finland, and the emerging West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

Read The Digital Powerhouse report online:


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We’d love to hear your thoughts

Email James Bedford, Head of Investment Strategy at Tech North: james@techcityuk.com to share your comments and suggestions.


Startup stories, Topics, Manchester, North West, SaaS