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Could This Be the Biggest MaaS App in the World Now?

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The mobility super app ‘Free Now’ has just integrated with German public transport company Rheinbahn, allowing users to book public transport services as well as taxis, private cars, e-scooters, e-bikes, e-mopeds, and car sharing.

Free Now, the mobility booking app owned by BMW and Daimler, is potentially one of the largest Mobility as a Service (MaaS) apps in the world. The app currently operates in 10 European countries including Germany, UK, France, Spain, Italy, and Poland. While it doesn’t necessarily offer the whole suite of taxis, private cars, e-scooters, e-bikes, e-mopeds, and car sharing in every country just yet, it has now achieved a significant milestone: integrating with public transit ticket bookings in one of Germany’s most important and populous metropolitan regions.

German public transport company Rheinbahn has become the first transit operator to offer booking access through the private mobility app. Rheinbahn’s operations cover major German cities like Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Bochum, Wuppertal, and Duisburg – and includes buses, trams, and underground trains. According to the Smart Cities World article, this milestone extends to “almost 1,100 lines, around 7.8 million inhabitants, and an area of around 7,300 square kilometres”.

“To begin with, users will be able to buy single tickets, day passes, and 48-hour passes. The technical integration has already begun. The ticket sales are possible thanks to a partnership with the Dutch aggregator Tranzer. Further partnerships with other transport companies in Germany and across Europe are planned for 2023.”

Excluding public transport, Free Now counts 400,000 vehicles across Europe in its fleets of different modal options.

“This is an important next stage for us and, for the first time, we’re enabling end-to-end ticketing for different modes of transport in our app. Linking different mobility offers is crucial to succeed in transforming transportation in Europe.” Thomas Zimmermann, CEO at Free Now.

Personal Comment:

Like the social media giants Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, MaaS apps need scale to succeed. People only use a social media platform if everyone else is using it, or if it offers something new that other services do not provide. Free Now seems to understand this, as they are pursuing scale on multiple levels – in terms of their international reach (10 European countries and counting) as well as the breadth of integrated mobility services they offer.

Which other service allows you to plan your trip and integrate payments for taxis/ride-hailing, private cars, e-scooters, e-bikes, e-mopeds, and car sharing all in the one app? And to be able to do it in multiple countries is huge! This simplifies travel immensely because you don’t have to download a new app, setup an account, verify your identity, and enter your payment details every time you travel either to a new region within the same country or between countries.

The integration with public transport planning and ticketing makes the app even more compelling as public transport ticketing is possibly the most fragmented of all mobility services. This is thanks to the typical patch-work system of multiple public transit authorities found in almost all North American and European countries, each with their own apps and ticketing systems.

The only concern here is that this is a private app, owned and operated by car-manufacturers, which might suggest a conflict of interest. They will thus have the power to steer the modal choices of users based on what is most profitable or strategically in line with their own business aims, rather than for the sake of public policy aims such as environmental sustainability and congestion reduction. However, given the need for scale and cross-border operability, perhaps this is the only way to achieve mass MaaS adoption? Returning to the comparison with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we have yet to have any examples of Governments developing successful social networks in the digital age – for better or for worse.

Written by Bobby Chen,
RISE Mobility & Systems