Is an All-Encompassing Mobility App Making a Comeback?

This article is part of the Future of Transportation series, which explores innovations and challenges that affect how we move about the world.

Imagine an app on your phone where you can find any form of transportation. You have your subway, bus or train ticket in hand if you tap a button. There are bikes, scooters and mopeds nearby. Even the electric ones. One unlocks a rental car for the weekend.

The late-2010s craze that took the transit world by storm was called "mobility as a service." It would be an all-access subscription to the world of transportation, one that would give you access to everything. One of the greatest foes of urban planning is private car ownership.

The hype of the tech disrupters has been cooled by real-world realities. Austria introduced its KlimaTicket, or Climate Ticket, in late October, where one annual price gets you aboard all public transit in the country. The exception to the status quo has been innovations.

Attempts at expansion face significant obstacles as a result of a swine flu epidemic that has caused a kneecapped transit ridership and renewed urgency over carbon emissions.

The story starts in a country. The world's first MaaS "operator", Sampo Hietanen, was backed by the Finns. Mr. Hietanen said it was a nice place to try out things.

The Urban 30 is a package that includes unlimited public transit rides, price-capped taxis, and fixed day rates for car rentals. There are cheaper plans for shared bikes and e-scooters.

Assembly takes packages. It's a difficult task to corral providers under one roof, like the local subway system.

Mr. Hietanen said that the modes are not designed to fit each other, but you need to get them onto the same service. The app needs to sync the systems. That was a difficult one.

Mr. Hietanen has founded a number of companies, including a company in Tokyo, a company in Vienna, a company in Antwerp, a company in Britain, and a company in Switzerland.

In Antwerp, there are many operators that offer seamless transit in app form. Rather than elevating one app to users, a team in the city works with companies to create apps that meet users' needs more precisely. You will hear the term "ecosystem" a lot.

Stijn Vernaillen, a MaaS expert, said they want to support as many players as possible. We are not going to put a solution in the market that is built for the city.

This is a stark departure from the early days of MaaS, when it was thought that cities would fill the role of defacto app provider. Mr. Vernaillen said this was not a good fit.

Tourists who want to visit the second largest seaport in Europe would have to download an app. Travel is often regional or nationally focused, so a city-supplied app could be limited. New York State has control of the city's subway, bus and commuter rail systems.

There is a question about the trips we take. An all-inclusive subscription may appeal to a regular commuter, but in the ever-expanding world of remote work, mostly local journeys that could be done by bus, bike or e-scooter would demand a different subscription.

Do all people need all transit at the same time? Mr. Vernaillen said that it would be more expensive for most people to use that solution.

customization is one of the options that Antwerp has adopted. The app for the major Belgian bank allows users to book transit trips. Skipr helps employers create a mobility budget for their employees, in which they can choose which aspects of their commute they want to cover. If they commute frequently or occasionally, they can apply their monthly travel stipend on a public transit pass.

Mass transit is more important to everyday life in Europe than in the United States. It made a landfall in Pittsburgh this summer.

According to census figures, a fifth of Pittsburgh residents don't have a car. In that case, said the former director of the city's Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, "necessity is the mother of invention." Move PGH is still in its early stages.

It was a little bit of chaos in the cities where there were a lot of different mobility offerings. You needed a transportation graduate level understanding of these apps and systems to be user-friendly.

The companies were asked to pitch a platform that would encompass the transit landscape. Ford Motor Company's spin company won the bid and no public money was attached.

The platform is still in its infancy. Users can plan routes that include multiple modes. The app can be used to pay for public transit and e-scooters, but other modes are not. Ms. Ricks said that payment for mopeds and bike sharing would be done through the platform. But car rentals and car-pooling? Hopefully one day.

Ms. Ricks said that the goal was to integrate fares. It would be working as a single system. We are taking baby steps to that.

Pittsburgh has created 50 mobility hubs where residents can find all the modes in person. 50 low-income residents are being given all you can eat access to public transit, bike-sharing and e-scooters as part of the city's pilot program for universal basic mobility. Car shares, e-mopeds, and car pooling are included.

If people don't have to worry about the cost of individual services or transportation itself, they can focus on getting to work, doctor appointments or kids to school on time.

The original dilemma was about whether or not the MaaS could lure people out of their cars.

The evidence of a shift is shaky so far. The Pandemic battered the finances of the operators in Finland. The last year and a half has not been a good one for travel routines. It's possible that 2022 isn't either.

Mr. Hietanen said that the concept of one-stop-shop transit is brand-new. He said that the one that creates dreams is going to win. We can make dreams. We will do it in a different way.

To get creative. Is car-free transportation bundled in other ways? There is at least one place in the United States that is trying to do something.

In September, Culdesac Tempe, a 17-acre development outside Phoenix that calls itself the first car-free neighborhood built from scratch in the U.S., announced that residents moving in next year would have access to a mobility package that includes a Platinum Pass with Valley Metro. There are over 1,000 bike parking spots. It is included in the rent.

Developers have a long history of intermingling with transit, from building out streetcar lines to offering free parking. Theirs is a new take on tradition.

Ms. Sunder said that they have heard from residents that they have different mobility preferences. There is no one-size-fits-all for mobility.