Mobility as a Service (MaaS) will add new modes of transport to the cities. If these new mobility services should not generate additional traffic, the traffic needs to shift from established transport options to the new options. Is this cannibalization? Is it good or bad? And if it is bad – how can it be prevented?

If you don’t cannibalize your own business, someone else will …
Image: captblack76, 123RF

At the FutureMobility Summit 2019 representatives from the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe BVG and their shuttle partner ViaVan got asked if their new demand-responsive Berlkönig shuttle service would not cannibalize BVG’s existing bus and subway services? Their answer was a mix of “too small” and “why not”. The more interesting part was the “why not”. The Berlkönig offers shared shuttle services within Berlin’s inner city at a fare between public transport and taxi prices. It also allows point-to-point connections like taxis – just shared. So yes, it likely lures passengers away from both established bus and subway public transport as well as from taxis. And I am curiously waiting for the results of the pilot. The answer might not be as clear as a “good” or “bad” as it has many facets. Hypotheses to be tested for its success could be:

  • The overall traffic will decrease through the ride sharing.
  • New customers could be won for MaaS and public transport and abandon their cars with this more comfortable mobility service.
  • It be profitable as a single service – or in system view.
  • There will be low impact on the taxi industry – if the can participate.
Cannibalization – Image: Elliotdeubel, Wikimedia

Ride hailing services or Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber or Lyft are known to attract more public transport customers than car drivers and so clearly “cannibalize” public transport. In some cities this might have lead to lower utilization of buses, commuter trains and subways and a significant increase of traffic, related congestion and emissions, as described e.g. in Bruce Schaller’s report on “Lyft, Uber and the Future of American Cities“. In contrast the cities’ suburbs and rural areas do not benefit from these services at all as they cannot be served profitably. From a city’s point of view this is clearly unintended. No doubt, this is bad. Cities around the world therefore now try different approaches to avoid these effects. Actions range from complete bans of TNCs over capping the number or vehicles, applying taxi regulations or congestion fees up to abandoning the existing bus fleet in favor of a full integration of these ride hailing services as demand-responsive transportation (DRT) as a part of the public transport. Also the TNCs have learned and are now actively approaching public transport providers for cooperations. In case both parties cooperate, pricing will also become a strong lever to manage the overall system’s transport efficiency. It will be interesting to see if they can find common ground and can come to mutually beneficial cooperations.

Deutsche Bahn’s IOKI shuttle could be a role model with an approach which by design cannot cannibalize mass rapid transit (MRT): it only acts as a “feeder system”, i.e. it picks up passengers at their destination and brings them to the next railway or subway station – and vice versa, but it does not offer point-to-point connections.

Another interesting view on corporate-internal cannibalization comes from Uber and their recently acquired eBike service JUMP. According to an Uber manager, Uber loses money on short distance rides up to three miles. This distance is ideal for electric scooter or bike rides. By adding JUMP-Bikes to their passenger app, Uber reduces their unprofitable short distance rides and creates profitable business for JUMP at once. Cannibalization at its best.

MaaS and the Cannibalization of Public Transport

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