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Mobility services at a glance:Britta Duerscheid is Strategic Partnerships Development Manager at Google Maps

Photo: PR

Quickly enter the destination, start navigation and go: Almost everyone knows Google Maps from everyday life. The U.S. company's app shows the shortest connection to get from A to B by car or train. And Google is going one step further: increasingly, the app will also display more complex connections with other means of transport – and at the same time become the platform for booking them.

Mobility-as-a-Service, or MaaS for short, is the name of the approach – and it is currently experiencing a hype like hardly any other trend in the field of mobility. In addition to Google, other providers are also trying to connect the various private and public transport services. Freenow, for example, a joint venture between the car manufacturers BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which is already represented in over 150 cities in ten European countries. Or Moovit from the Intel Group. At the local level, Jelbi, a publicly owned Berlin mobility app, offers a route planner for public transport and sharing services. But the Alphabet subsidiary Google has the greatest potential.

Around one billion people already use Google Maps every month. And Group CEO Sundar Pichai (51) is currently expanding Google Maps into a super app that can not only be used to navigate, but also to book and shop directly for restaurants or hairdressing appointments. The consumer mobility sector in particular, which seamlessly connects to the current usage behavior of the app, is considered a beacon of hope. Through partnerships, Google's development teams integrate subways and suburban trains, including access to their ticket systems, into the app.

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"We started five years ago, and now we have 500 cities live with 72 operators," said Britta Duerscheid recently at a micromobility trade fair in Amsterdam. The Google Maps manager takes care of the development of the strategic partnerships. In numerous German cities, too, Google Maps already displays bicycles and scooters from the sharing services DB Call a Bike, Donkey Republic, Tier and many others.

The Netflix of urban transport

The idea behind Mobility-as-a-Service is to respond to people's changing mobility behaviour by combining mobility services from public and private providers. Argued in terms of climate policy, this would be a contribution to the mobility turnaround. For the providers of the platforms, however, it is also a matter of business. In practice, users should plan, book and pay for their route with all available means of transport – for example buses, trains, car and bike sharing, rental cars, taxis and electric scooters – via a single platform. The MaaS provider, in this case Google Maps, puts together the various means of transport as a mobility bundle – a kind of Netflix for city traffic.

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A bicycle street in Berlin: Google Maps suggests different travel plans to users in the app, combining bike, scooter and car sharing, buses and trains on one route

Photo: Thomas Trutschel / photothek / IMAGO

The expansion took place in several stages. Google Maps integrated the offers of Deutsche Bahn into its search years ago. The app "displays real-time information for hundreds of train journeys daily and includes a ticket link button that takes you directly to the DB platform to book the ticket," Duerscheid told manager magazin. Similarly, public transport operators such as the Hamburger Verkehrsverbund HVV are integrated into Google Maps.

According to Duerscheid, Google is now looking for more "win-win partnerships" that will benefit Google and private micromobility providers alike. After all, the app connects customers to the sharing providers, and their brand name becomes more visible in Google Maps.

The booking and payment of the services has so far mostly taken place on the external websites of the providers. But even that could change soon. In the future, Google could fully integrate its own payment service Google Pay and thus earn a share of every single transaction – a few percent commission for every bus ticket sold and every scooter ride.

Companies sense billion-dollar business

The potential is enormous. In 2021, the global MaaS market was valued at $128.5 billion, according to research by P&S Intelligence. According to the market research institute, sales are expected to rise to around 2030 billion dollars by 520.

One thing is clear: Mobility-as-a-Service is still in its infancy. It is true that in recent years there has been great progress in technical and industrial terms and more integration, more standardization, more collaboration, says Natalia le Gal, founder of the specialized consulting firm Behava. "But users aren't really flocking to the MaaS apps yet."

In order for travelers to take advantage of such offers, added value is crucial, says Duerscheid. "Even though users care about sustainability in their modes of transport, the standard use case is that you want to get from A to B in an efficient way," says the Google executive. "And for that, time and money are the most important factors." Therefore, there are two options: The apps must either offer faster route options – or grant discounts.

The physical and digital worlds are becoming more closely linked

Part of the answer lies in technology: Google Maps not only wants to expand the range of transport services, but also to show its users the best possible way to get from A to B through new functions. According to Duerscheid, the use of artificial intelligence will also be used to analyze many different factors such as road quality, traffic forecasts, bicycle paths or public transport. For example, Google has recently introduced new features for cyclists: For example, to display the exact percentage of bike lanes on a particular route and other bike route information, the company has worked with the municipal governments in Berlin and Munich.

At the same time, Google Maps sees itself as a digital image of the entire world. "We have moved from a 2D visualization to a multidimensional view of the world," says Duerscheid. That's why the introduction of the so-called "Immersive View" for cyclists is imminent: With this, cyclists should be able to visualize every section of a route before the ride. As if from a bird's eye view, you can see what the bicycle lane looks like, how many traffic lights there are, how much traffic is to be expected, what the air quality is like and what the weather will be like, explains Duerscheid. In the coming months, the function will be activated in Germany for Berlin.