We all want to feel free to move. Never as in this precise historical moment, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, can we experience and appreciate the value of this freedom. A freedom that is very often taken for granted but is now magnified as a necessity. 

“Mobility is vital for the internal market and for the quality of life of citizens as they enjoy their freedom to travel” says the incipit of the European Union’s White Paper on transport published in 2011, which continues: “Transport enables economic growth and job creation: it must be sustainable in the light of the new challenges we face”.

The point therefore is to be able to combine the need for mobility – including the personal desire for freedom – with its sustainability. It seems an ambitious challenge: Is it possible to look to the so-called MaaS to address the new paradigm of mobility? Can this MaaS, and the need for sustainability, respond to our desire for freedom of movement?


Can MaaS, winking at sustainability, give us freedom of movement?


Digitize supply and demand for mobility

Let’s take a step back. Before talking about MaaS and defining it, it is good to talk about “digitization“. This is a necessary discussion because MaaS lives in a digital world. Of course the traditional concrete and physical experience of transportation continues to live and is critical to the success of implementing MaaS. 

In fact, a traveler moves within an analog world using means of transport that are analog as well. This is the practice nowadays … teleportation aside!


Digitization of the demand

We now focus on the transport of people, deliberately leaving aside the transport of goods. The logistics of goods is certainly interesting (we often hear about DaaS, Delivery-as-a-Service) and can be intertwined with people transport, but the objective of this article remains the freedom of movement of individuals with a sustainable approach.

Having defined this perimeter of action, the demand for mobility is represented by the the demand for mobility is represented by all the subjects who need to make a move many use-cases within the Transportation vertical. We are seeing to a great degree the new approach to mobility. Individuals in many cases have started their own entry into the digital domain of mobility. This is because the smartphone has reached such a level of usage and dependence. The smartphone is the emblem of the digitization process and has become the preferred way to find information and / or access many mobility services in an area.


Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine


In the image above, the digitization process is represented by the vertical arrow that creates the digital version of an individual, symbolized by the smartphone. We often talk about the Internet of Humans.


Digitization of the offer

The digitization of the offer consists of all the interventions to bring what is intrinsically analog on a digital plane, that is the actual movement of a traveler. ITS systems in many cases perform this task, making information and processes available on a digital domain (for example the GPS position of a bus or the purchase of a travel ticket on the go). As you can see in the image below, the digitization process consists of the vertical arrow that creates a digital counterpart of what is physical, for example a means of transport. For many of these ITS systems it is possible to speak of the Internet of Things.


Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine


Mobility supply and demand obviously meet on an analogical level: at the present time, however much you dream of teleportation or gift of ubiquity, mobility is necessarily carried out on an analogical level. In other words, the movement we experience is always physical and tangible.


The three arrows

We combine the two diagrams of the digitization of supply and demand. The result is the following image.


Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine


The black boxes highlight two different domains: the analog one at the bottom and the digital one at the top. There is an increasingly marked division between these two worlds, so much so that transport and mobility, two terms that could in many cases be interchangeable, assume, according to this diagram, different meanings: transport represents the material and tangible component of movement, as for example the seat of a train to sit on, the fuel that moves a bus, the pilots of an airplane. Mobility, diametrically opposed, moves away from the analog world and becomes a more abstract and impalpable entity, a precious asset that, given its nature, finds a perfect place in the digital domain.

The vertical arrows of the image have been explained previously. The horizontal arrow below describes the purely analogical interaction between supply and demand. Basically, the world of transport when public service timetables were printed in paper booklets, tickets were paper and had to be physically punched by a controller and the only way to get information in real time was to see for yourself a means of transit.

Much more interesting nowadays is the horizontal arrow at the top, that is, the one that represents the meeting of supply and demand on a digital level. This is the real theater of the innovation in mobility: many successful inventions or commercial initiatives that have appeared in recent years can be read and analyzed through the outline of the three arrows that we see in the image below.


Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine


Before going into the merits of the horizontal arrow and its impact as a driver for the business in mobility, it is appropriate to make some important clarifications on the vertical arrows.

The digitalization of the demand for mobility could be defined at the state of the art, thanks to the incredible technological progression of user-side tools, the penetration of mobile devices and the performance of mobile networks at increasingly accessible costs. The user is digitized reliably, effectively and at low cost. It is the user himself who provides most of his own digitization (device and connection) and it is sufficient to provide the individual with the software tool necessary to complete this process. In mobility, there are now proven quality apps that exhibit the performance and characteristics needed for successful travel in a digital realm.

The digitization of transport services (therefore of the offer for mobility) has historically started before that of demand (for example, fleet management, prior to smartphones), but has grown more slowly and is now lagging behind. It is no coincidence that the technologies present today in the world of Transportation are in many cases obsolete and therefore represent one of the main barriers to innovation in mobility. For example, bars, validators and turnstiles are not only a physical barrier for travelers, but they are also symbolical barriers towards the innovation of mobility. They are and will be at least until it is possible to connect them or employ them as an integral part of a digital domain that is now essential since it is dragged by digital demand.

The horizontal arrow at the top is where the magic takes place. This is where new paths open thanks to the exquisite digital meeting of supply and demand. In order to keep this horizontal arrow effective, two robust and good quality vertical arrows are required. The digital meeting is based on the correct and effective digitization of supply and demand. We can say that, on the one hand, it is necessary to provide the appropriate tools to the end user and, on the other hand that precise and reliable data on transport services must be available.


The horizontal arrow at the top of the three arrows is the real theater of the innovation in mobility


Let’s go back to innovations in mobility. Many of these can be read or rethought thanks to the three arrows diagram. Let’s see some examples:

  • Flixbus: it acts only and exclusively in the digital dimension, providing an app for users on one hand and digitizing the means of transport on the other (for example: booking, ticketing, AVL, WiFi on board). Transport is provided by thousands of local operators, while Flixbus focuses in particular on digital marketing. The success of Flixbus shows how much the world of transport is unbalanced towards the digital domain, while historically being born or still operating in the analog domain.
  • Uber: it is a DRT (Demand Responsive Transport) service that could not even exist without the three arrows: the app for end users (vertical arrow on the mobility demand side), the app for drivers (vertical arrow on the mobility offer side) and the dispatching platform to combine supply and demand on a digital level and, only subsequently, to make it happen in the analog level. The real value of Uber lies in combining the services (horizontal arrow) and this activity relies on the mentioned apps (vertical arrows).
  • Micromobility: this phenomenon of the last few years is particularly interesting because it brings the analogical side of transport to the minimum terms, choosing a means of transport that is as contained and economic as possible, and at the same time exploiting the same technologies available for the digitization of the user for the digitization of the scooter (a scooter actually has on board the technology present on a smartphone). Micromobility teaches how it is possible to focus on the digital domain by choosing the smartest way to descend into the analog domain of transport, minimizing expenses and investments. On the other hand, the physical supply of scooters and their maintenance is not the real business of the micro mobility providers … indeed, one could say – probably exaggerating – that it is a necessary evil.

MaaS and the three arrows

At this point a more than legitimate question arises: does the three arrows diagram allow us to talk about MaaS?

The answer is yes; the three arrows diagram allows it, but on one condition (necessary but not sufficient): that the transport services present consist of more than a single mode. This is because a product serving the end user must intrinsically contain many – ideally all – of the available mode of transport on any given territory. MaaS means having a holistic view of mobility.

In the event that the three arrows diagram remains unimodal, the horizontal arrow at the top cannot be called MaaS, but will have other names: “app of a public transport agency”, “e-commerce of a single operator”, “FlixBus app” just to give some examples. There is nothing wrong with these products, on the contrary, they respond to specific needs of digital users and, if implemented artfully, they can give rise to projects with particularly interesting results. But MaaS is another thing: without multimodality one cannot speak of MaaS.


without multimodality one cannot speak of MaaS


What is seen in the first part of this article, that is the construction of the three arrows diagram, refers to a single mode of transport (whatever it is). In this second part we talk about MaaS, or the integration of multiple transport services that are put into the system for the end user. Let’s make an analogy to better understand this difference. In the first part of the article the parallel is with an e-commerce of a single manufacturer (suppose, for example, of shoes), in the second part, that of MaaS, the analogy is with a marketplace – think about Amazon – in which the products of several suppliers are harmonized, as well as items and services belonging to different categories (shoes of each brand and model, but also sweaters, hats, books, watches, appliances, etc.). MaaS means all types of bus services (urban, suburban, etc.) but also metro, train, parking, bike sharing, micro mobility and so on and so forth.


Visual definition of MaaS

What is the definition of MaaS?

To define MaaS we now report one of the most authoritative and clear definitions, that of the MaaS Alliance. MaaS is “the integration of multiple transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand”. This definition is compact and precise and the three arrows diagram allows you to have a visual representation of it. Let’s see in detail why.

Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine

Let’s break this definition down into three parts:

  1. “The integration of multiple transport services …” → this first part of the definition is visible in the lower right part of the three arrows diagram. As seen before, it is not possible to speak of MaaS with a single transport service. No multimodality, no MaaS.
  2. “… in a single mobility service …” → the single mobility service is represented by the smartphone on the top left, the digital counterpart of the end user. If before we talked about multiplicity, here we talk about one single service. The user must be able to take advantage of a global mobility offer from a single app.
  3. “… accessible on request” → we begin to discover one of the first forms of freedom for the user that MaaS underlies: it is the freedom to be able to access, on one’s own initiative, when and where it is needed, to a single mobility service to reach multiple transport services. Without digital this would not be possible.

The three arrows diagram allows us to come up with another definition of MaaS in addition to that of the MaaS Alliance: by thinking of the horizontal arrow at the top, MaaS can be defined as the digital meeting point of supply and demand for mobility in an intermodal perspective.


MaaS: digital meeting point of supply and demand for mobility in an intermodal perspective


Other definitions of MaaS

There are numerous other definitions of MaaS which, for completeness of the discussion, we summarize and report below. Each of these definitions brings with it the wealth of different points of view of the same basic concept. None of these definitions conflict with what has been previously described in this article.

MaaS can also be defined as:

  • mobility at your service, upon request
  • multiple transport services in a single app
  • holistic view of mobility
  • transformation of the way we choose how to go from A to B
  • customer-centric transport model
  • optimization of the existing mobility network
  • opportunities to improve the movement of people and goods
  • prerequisite for rethinking the transport offer
  • over-the-top mobility service
  • collaboration between transport modes
Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine


From these definitions a second declination of “freedom” emerges which is added to the first, relating to access on demand (on-demand mobility). This second declination of freedom is the possibility of going from point A to point B. MaaS must allow you to move where you want without restrictions and this, for the end user, is freedom of movement.


MaaS Integrator and MaaS Operator

The horizontal arrow representing MaaS has a problem: it contains a multiplicity of different professional and technical skills.

Studies and projects on the topic in recent years have highlighted the need and / or opportunity to break the horizontal arrow into two parts. In other words, they realized that, in the new value chain that has been created with MaaS, there are missing links given the current stakeholders. These missing activities can be clustered into two macro categories that outline two new roles: that of the MaaS Operator and that of the MaaS Integrator.


Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine


Let’s try to define these two new actors:

  • the MaaS Operator → is a digital mobility operator that, through a single platform, conveys multiple transport solutions to end users in a multimodal way;
  • the MaaS Integrator → plays a role of transport software integrator, with the mission of putting to system various transport services for one or more MaaS Operators.

MaaS Integrator and MaaS Operator are located between the demand for mobility (represented by end users) and the offer of mobility, made up of the various transport operators – public and private – with the related assets and services. This relationship is clearly visible in the image above. The following diagram instead allows you to highlight the difference between the Maas Operator and the MaaS Integrator within the three arrow diagram.


Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine


The image above allows you to understand that the MaaS Operator has direct contact with the end user. The business of the MaaS Operator is B2C type and therefore requires having (or seeking in a technical supplier) IT skills in the design and development of mobile apps dedicated to end users. More and more it can be said that our preferred transport mode is our smartphone. Qualitative digital products are needed, matching the expectations due to the technological confidence of digital users.

The box that segments the skills of the MaaS Operator on the three arrows diagram comprehends the user digitization process, including the end user app which is important, but alone does not constitute MaaS. MaaS is not just an app!   

MaaS is not just an app!


The MaaS Integrator, unlike the MaaS Operator, works in a purely B2B or B2G market, with the aim of systematising the existing digitalisations for each single mode of transport. In this case, a deep knowledge in the transport domain is needed, because the main activity is to integrate what is available from the various ITS systems (Intelligent Transport System).

The scope of action of the MaaS Integrator does not include ITS systems, although, in many cases it is necessary to make up for any lack of digitization of the offer. We refer in particular to the orange vertical arrows and the circles above which make up the ITS systems: if they are not present or do not reach an adequate quality level then you must fill this gap before you can think about MaaS. If there is no AVL / AVM system, it is not possible to have the position of the vehicles in real time and this limits the potential of the MaaS. A MaaS project can be stopped as abruptly as a user who is physically stuck in front of a turnstile that cannot be opened by an app, a bike that cannot be booked by smartphone, a train ticket that cannot be purchased with a few simple clicks. These are small daily problems in tackling MaaS projects. Digitization is an indispensable prerequisite, but at the same time making MaaS does not mean making ITS systems!


MaaS and freedom

It is time to draw conclusions and try to answer the question we asked ourselves in the first place: can MaaS, winking at sustainability, respond to our desire for freedom of movement?

We summarize the basic steps of the article:

  • digitization of the demand for mobility
  • digitization of the mobility offer
  • union of supply and demand in the three arrows diagram
  • importance of supply and demand matching on a digital level
  • horizontal arrow as a theater for mobility innovation
  • MaaS and the three arrows diagram in multimodal version
  • definitions of MaaS
  • new roles in the value chain: MaaS Operator and MaaS Integrator

The goal of this article is to help shed some light on the MaaS topic. It can be said without fear that it is not a simple matter: the objectives of a MaaS project are as strategic as they are ambitious. The three arrows diagram and the MaaS architecture allow us to reflect on how complex a project of this type can be. The following questions – deliberately – put even more irons in the fire:

  • What does sufficient digitalisation of the transport offer mean? Which ITS systems are ready for MaaS and which are not? What to do if transportation data is not made available? How to be open to the new forms of transport of the future?
  • Who is called upon to play the key roles of MaaS Operator and MaaS Integrator? What is the role of the Public Administration, what is the role of private entities? Who can have the reins of the mobility of a territory and with what purpose?
  • Who is responsible for creating rate bundles? Who owns the relationship with users? Who is responsible if the user has problems during a move? Is there a risk of being platformized by an over-the-top service?
  • How to deal with the fear of competition between mobility services? How to position MaaS to be the catalyst for mobility through intermodal collaboration? Is it possible to encourage more sustainable transport services?

The intrinsic complexity of mobility, if not addressed from a MaaS perspective, relentlessly falls on the end user. This complexity discourages people and compels them to make less than optimal choices for global sustainability. The choice of driving a private car – the least sustainable mode of transport – is often a choice dictated by the complexity of the alternatives, in particular as regards the problem of the first and last mile.


The intrinsic complexity of mobility, if not addressed from a MaaS perspective, relentlessly falls on the end user

How many times have we happened to not understand how to find the necessary information to travel by bus? Or how and where to buy a ticket? An even worse question that, by definition, has no answer: how many better journeys (faster, cheaper, less polluting) could we have done but we didn’t do because we were not aware or just out of habit? MaaS bases its value on the information it manages to give and the access to mobility that it can guarantee: information makes us free, access even more.

The correct governance of a MaaS platform is an opportunity to exercise control and optimization of mobility, which are possible only with a holistic vision of mobility.


Non è stato fornito nessun testo alternativo per questa immagine


MaaS increases our ability to move simply because it relieves us of the complexity of transport itself, allowing us to choose between various options for moving from point A to point B: it is the task of the MaaS Integrator to combine disparate transport offers together and of the MaaS Operator to offer them in a clear and persuasive way, with the same simplicity that pushes you to get on your car and leave. MaaS absorbs the complexity of transport to leave all of us the freedom of movement.

MaaS absorbs the complexity of transport to leave all of us the freedom of movement