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Expert interview: Connected cars and transport apps


No-one knows precisely what the future of transport will be, but Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is an idea with promise. A talk with Martin McMullan, Innovation Lead at the NZ Transport Agency.

It’s a few years into the future, your future. You’re in town and you want to get to your friend’s place. Quickly and cheaply. You pull out your phone, open your mobility app and see what’s available.

A robot car would be quickest, but it will use up credits. There’s a rack of rental bikes around the corner – cycling earns you mobility credits, so it’s an easy choice.

You tap your phone to unlock a bike, put on a helmet and go.

Transport when you need it

No-one knows precisely what the future of transport will be, but Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is an idea with promise. It means transport services are personalised –  you can make good choices about how to get around and how to play. And all the information will come to you via your personal device.

Martin McMullan

Martin McMullan

Martin McMullan, whose job is Innovation Lead at the NZ Transport Agency, says Mobility as a Service will empower people to make better transport decisions based on time, cost and quality. The aim is to make all modes of transport at least as handy as jumping in your car is today.

Martin and his colleagues at the Transport Agency are working on a prototype Mobility Operating System. This will provide the underlying software for a “mobility marketplace” which allow people to see what transport options are around them.

“As transport planners we’re looking more at how people and goods can best get around, rather than the traditional view of how many vehicles we can move from point to point.”

Mobility as a Service can work with the modes of transport we have today, and it will support future transport such as driverless rental cars.

Connected vehicles

Martin says future vehicles being able to send and receive data via the internet will complement the idea of Mobility as a Service.

“The biggest disruption to transport is not going to be the autonomous aspect of vehicles. More value comes from connected vehicles. That's where vehicles can talk to other vehicles, vehicles can talk to roads and traffic lights, and vehicles can stay in touch with mobility apps and other software.”

As more vehicles become connected, the possibilities include:

  • Cars that warn the driver when another car is on a collision course, giving the driver time to avoid a crash. Car to car communication would also help driverless cars stay safe.
  • Cars tell each other when they are going to brake, turn or change lanes. This would allow driverless cars to travel more closely together.
  • Cars receive software upgrades so they perform better with time.
  • People who manage our roads can see when and where traffic gets heavy – this could support demand management such as road tolls that vary with the time of day.
  • Vehicles transmit their availability to Mobility as a Service apps.

Martin says connected vehicles will lead to many changes in industries, careers and how people live their lives.

“The digitisation of transport is part of a new industrial age. The world is changing.”

He says it will be important to ensure that future transport services meet everyone’s needs with regard to income, age and abilities.

“We are asking how we can best move our citizens and freight around New Zealand, while not ending up with a two-tier transport system that leaves out some people in society.”

Mobility as a service examples

Here are some examples of what MaaS may do.

  • Show transport options around you, such as trains, buses, taxis, carpooling, or cars and bikes that you hire by the hour.
  • Book and pay for your transport.
  • Give accurate 100 per cent real-time data – you know exactly how far away that bus is, so no need to stand around at the bus stop for long.
  • Check traffic conditions and set your alarm to go early if heavy traffic may cause delays to your morning commute.
  • Let you earn credits as a reward when you ride your bike. You can spend the credits on other transport modes.
  • Provide a marketplace for small-scale providers. You could invest in a few driverless vehicles, get safety certification and list your availability.
  • Eventually remove the need for bus stops altogether – your vehicle of choice will meet you when and where you need it.
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