Can Real Estate Developers unlock the potential of Mobility as a Service?

August 19, 2019

Mobility as a Service, or MaaS, has been in a journey to make itself relevant over the past 5 years. This all-in-one platform concept allows participants to buy into a system where trip planning, payment, and different types of mobility options such as metro systems, buses, shared sedans, and even bikes and scooters, are in effect pre-paid and available for on-demand use.

© shutterstock / Milan Ilic Photographer
Untapped potential lies in the connection of various means of transport through pre-paid plans.

The biggest challenge: matching mobility capacity to the demand of consumers

MaaS has grown strongest in Europe, in places like Helsinki, where companies like Whim offer pre-paid plans for a broad range of mobility options. However, the key to Whim and other european MaaS providers is a reliance on tax subsidies and incentives. By tapping into these incentives, the MaaS platform is made viable because the economic risks associated with supplying mobility capacity and predicting associated demand is minimized.

In the US, MaaS remains a concept. Trip planning is dominated by apps such as Google Maps and Waze, and a unified payment platform is compelling yet does not represent a tipping point of convenience. However, the most challenging part of MaaS, the attempt by private companies to match mobility capacity across a variety of vehicles to the demand of consumers, is in its infancy. This is the most advanced and complex benefit of MaaS, and is an almost actuarial task that requires complex statistics, behavioral understanding, and a strong balance sheet to weather the short-term storms of less-than-accurate algorithms.

A possible solution: private real estate developers as sponsors

But if we take a step back from the current European and US situations, and offer others the opportunity to be the “sponsor” of MaaS, could their strengths unlock its full potential?

For example, could private real estate developers use their balance sheets to weather the short-term storms of demand prediction? What if developers found a way to leverage mobility pattern data from residents to accurately predict mobility needs? What if developers networked mobility amongst their residential portfolios? What if developers crossed ownership and formed mobility alliances to densify their mobility demand and more evenly match supply and demand? What if developers provided an ecosystem of mobility options, to match the trip lengths and frequencies of residents?

Cities are already incentivizing transit-oriented development, in which certain development limitations and requirements are relaxed in exchange for developers building in proximity to transit hubs or subway stations. Developers could put forth the same argument for a MaaS platform for residents: fewer people in personal vehicles, a lower carbon footprint, and better amenities for residents, tapping into the same government incentives, regardless of proximity to transit.

Moving away from the luxury market and towards improved movement for all residents

Moreover, developer-oriented MaaS could be a tremendously effective first/last mile solution, offering residents in transit deserts effective ways of reaching transit, as a boon to both residents and the city at large. It would save residents money they would otherwise need to spend on personal vehicle, in the event they lived in a transit desert. In the Arcadis MaaS pilot in Zuidas, Amsterdam, the pilot leveraged money that was already being spent by corporations on car rentals and car fleets as funding to subsidize employee usage of MaaS. The same could be possible for developers: by spending less on building below street parking, for example, and by instead using that space to construct additional units, the developer could put money saved towards the development of MaaS as an amenity for residents.

As the luxury market begins to saturate, developers will begin to look for new sources of differentiation. One such answer is improved movement for all residents, from single residents to full families, across the urban environment. Subsidization or the provision of easier movement across an entire city would be a truly enviable amenity. Services could be tailored to residents of all ages and abilities.

MaaS as a way to elevate property value by increasing connectivity

Developers rely on transit and road networks for attracting residents and attracting value to their properties. Properties with enviable connections to transit or job centers are higher value, with properties far out of the way worth less. MaaS could help increase the value and attractiveness of otherwise disconnected apartments, by introducing the same connectivity that typically characterize more centrally located developments.

The odds of a transit-rich amenity space staying empty for long is unlikely in a competitive real estate market. Quite simply, given the cost of transportation for a typical household, access to MaaS would be too valuable an amenity relative to any individual’s expenses to pass up.

Large-scale developments that include spaces for commercial tenants could also benefit from increased foot-traffic from increased MaaS usage. Developers recognize the benefit of offering residents transit options: many already include bike racks and carshare in their buildings. Bike rooms are increasingly common in developments. Carshare offers buildings the added benefit of a revenue stream from parking spaces, in addition to a resident amenity. MaaS could operate similarly, but with exponential benefits, scalable across developments instead of site specific.

It can be done: Improving mobility options of residents, sustainability profiles of portfolios—and generating profit

All of the above points are even more true from the perspective of a unit sales perspective: the savings for a household in a unit purchased from the opportunity to use a MaaS platform would be compounded over time. Furthermore, from the developer’s perspective, MaaS might offer a means of continuing to profit from residents in units sold following point of sale.

We think it’s time for real estate developers to seriously consider leveraging their balance sheet to act as the cornerstone of MaaS. Developers can partner with start-ups to get an app, which is the simplest part, and then leverage their resident data, size, and physical facilities to create tiered pre-paid plans that provide better mobility options for their residents, decreased congestion, and improved sustainability profiles for their portfolios.

And all of this is possible while still making a profit.

Peter Glus

North American Big Urban Client Director bei Arcadis