The beginnings of Rural Mobility as a Service
The emerging concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has been defined by the European MaaS Alliance as an approach to mobility that “put[s] the users, both travelers and goods, at the core of transport services, offering them tailored mobility solutions based on their individual needs. This means that, for the first time, easy access to the most appropriate transport mode or service will be included in a bundle of flexible travel service options for end users (EPOMM, 2017).” Cairngorms Connected focuses on exploring the potential for MaaS in the under-studied rural context (R-MaaS), encompassing both user and provider perspectives. For those familiar with MaaS, it is accepted that currently there is no agreed definition of the term as well as endless discussions and papers on the subject. It is not uncommon for terms such as Mobility Management or Mobility on Demand to be synominus with MaaS .
Is MaaS New?
Some would argue the concept is new, whilst others can trace the history. As Lyons et al (2019) highlight, the idea of ‘joined up’ or ‘integrated’ transport systems is not a new phenomenon. In 1998, the UK Government wrote the following, which has many overlaps with current interpretations of MaaS: “integration within and between different types of transport - so that each contributes its full potential and people can move easily between them” (DETR, 1998, p.8) (Lyons, et al., 2019, p. 28). What has changed, however, is the technological capabilities available to support this integration, as well as expectations of the user and levels of customer service. In a rural area, the starting point for delivering and satisfying expectations and customer service is harder, in part due to the dispersed and low density population, but also the lack of commercially viable transport models. To that end R-MaaS is viewed as a challenge.
In contrast to urban areas, there are few rural Mobility as a Service (R-MaaS) pilots but the most important to mention is based in Finland. MaaSiFiE incorporates a number of projects including Artic MaaS (a visitor MaaS solution in Lapland), ALPIO (integrated regional mobility solutions), MaasDigiboksi (rural transport and mobility), and VAMOS (value added mobility services), with the work in the main conducted by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and staff member Jenni Eckhardt. This gap analysis highlighted the need for our project to not only learn from and liaise with VTT but also work alongside the findings from Jenny and her PhD. The European MaaS Roadmap for 2025, published in 2017, involving VTT, outlines the market, enablers, drivers and services behind MaaS and highlights the future journey of MaaS.
Rural MaaS (R-MaaS) in this context presents opportunities to work with and connect communities, businesses and visitors to provide a needs-based solution. Despite the barriers to rural development, Cairngorms Connected has over twenty stakeholders, a pilot area and the traction to deliver change.
Cairngorms Connected is an organisation covering the Cairngorms National Park and for the Innovate UK project, the region focused on is the area around Aviemore to Grantown on Spey, including Boat of Garten. The Cairngorms National Park has a land area of 4500km2, 5 local authorities, 3 Regional Transport Partnerships, 18,000 residents and 2 million visitors annually, with 1.2 million visitors to Aviemore alone each year. The main train station is Aviemore with direct connections to Edinburgh and London whilst it also serves the hubs of Inverness and Perth which connect to Wick, Skye, Glasgow, or Aberdeen
Aviemore is a busy town located on main road from Perth to Inverness, the A9, which then connects to the A95 known as the "Whisky Road" heading to Elgin. The villages of Boat of Garten and Grantown on Spey are connected by the A95. However, at the time of writing there is no dedicated bus operating full time on the A95; instead, the current services connect some villages and a Community Transport option is available, but due to its popularity, services are limited outwith the Aviemore area. Although the Park area is reknowned for the outdoors and leisure activities, including the Speyside Way, and forest and mountain trail tracks, for those wishing to cycle or walk to work, visitor attractions or family, this is often on fast, narrow country roads. The car, if you are able to drive or afford one is thus essential. However, the car could play a positive role with enhanced shared transport, leasing to others etc. The starting point is thus lower for MaaS than in urban areas, but the opportunities and impact on communities, businesses, visitors and users are plentiful. As a collaboration of all, we need to be patient, and build slowly to ensure everyone is on this journey. 'Rome wasn't built in a day'