Unlocking Innovation: Digital Journeys, Day 4

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23 April 2020

‘Mobility as a Service’ (MaaS) in the rail sector came under scrutiny in the fourth session of the Railway Industry Association (RIA’s) ‘Digital Journeys for Rail Passengers & Freight’ webinar series.

MaaS - the integration of various modes of transport along with information and payment functions into a single mobility service - is of heightened interest at present, with the Department for Transport currently consulting on the topic.

Questions being considered by the consultation, which runs until 22 May, include the role government should play in the development of MaaS platforms.

Felicity Osborn, programme manager at Network Rail (NR), and Alex Weedon, director of SME development at Connected Places Catapult (CPC), kicked off RIA’s webinar by setting out MaaS-related initiatives they are involved in.

Osborn focused on ‘Innovation Programme 4’, which is part of the pan-European Shift2Rail R&D collaboration programme, and the opportunities for SMEs to get involved in three projects entitled ‘Connective’, ‘Cohesive’ and ‘MaaSive’. NR is co-ordinating the latter, which has a total budget of €11.7m and runs until February 2021.

“Having a one-stop system will revolutionise the transport experience, and make rail and other forms of transport more attractive,” Osborn said, in respect of MaaS more broadly.   

Weedon went on to champion CPC’s Intelligent Mobility Accelerator, a programme to help start-ups with innovations to improve the UK transport system and the ‘Innovation Factory’.

Weedon said the Intelligent Mobility Accelerator, a partnership between CPC and Telefónica’s start-up accelerator Wayra, was in the midst of the selection process for its fourth cohort of companies (it has 10 SMEs per six-month cohort; 29 SMEs completed the first three cohorts, of which more than half had “rail offerings”, he said).

The Innovation Factory is a strategic partnership with Network Rail’s R&D Programme and has already run competitions to improve overhead line equipment and, most recently, launched the ‘Innovation Station’ initiative. Weedon also said that CPC planned to launch “a new programme very much focused on rail” in the coming weeks.

RIA’s webinar also included three ‘elevator pitches.’ These were from Sam Bussey of Instrumentel, a Leeds University spin-off company acquired by Unipart Rail in 2017; Rene Perkins of CityMaaS, which uses data to help disabled people with travel; and Alex Shapland-Howes from Tandem, a service that matches travellers for shared taxi services and is aimed at people living in rural towns where public transport services, particularly buses, are typically in decline.

Shapland-Howes said that many companies offering MaaS-related tech solutions often tend to focus on major cities where – ironically – transport connections are relatively strong and not “these towns and more rural areas where the problem is much greater”. He said: “We [Tandem] are looking to start partnering with rail stations and rail providers to help get people to sites that are not well connected by public transport.”

RIA’s online event was attended by more than 100 delegates, who were polled at the end as to whether they think railways ‘are ready to be part of the MaaS environment’: 19% said ‘Yes’ and 81% said ‘No’; and what they believe are the biggest barriers for railways to join MaaS: 63% ticked ‘Commercial’ barriers; 47% ticked ‘Behavioural’; 37% ‘Technological’; and 26% ‘Regulatory’.

Weedon said “the challenge is getting the supply-chain to understand the benefits of MaaS”.

Rene Perkins said: “MaaS is a little bit fragmented, and [transport] industries need to work together. It’s complex because of the different stakeholders.”

Focusing on Tandem’s own challenges, Shapland-Howes said: “The biggest barrier for us is the extent to which so many decision-makers are people who live in big cities. Most investors that we speak to either work in London or live and work in London so their lived experience of moving around is limited to London, which has the most incredible transport system. If you live in, say, Wellingborough or Skelmersdale, things are very different.” 

RIA’s ‘Digital Journeys’ series ran from 20-24 April 2020 and is part of RIA’s long-running ‘Unlocking Innovation’ programme.

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