However, if train operators want to fully reap the benefits that MaaS and NMS can bring in terms of customer knowledge and insight, they should be careful, with a data aggregator model, that they do not fully outsource their customer data. Or if they do, that they receive insight from the aggregator in return.
Alliances in the middle ground
Between the two extremes of pure ‘open’ and ‘closed’ business models, we can imagine a third way – or rather multiple different ways, involving alliances with pre-existing and emerging transport providers. In these scenarios, transport service providers would share data between themselves, and potentially third parties, to offer local platforms that bring increased convenience to their customers.
It is worth re-emphasising at this point that there is no single approach that will be right for all situations. The suitability of the business models considered will depend, for instance, on whether the context is rural or an urban area.
Rural vs urban transport services
Unlike many industries rail services are heavily subsidised in some non-profitable areas, including many rural lines, and this is unlikely to change any time soon, due to the understood social benefits of affordable and green transport. The lack of a strong profit perspective may well mean that the more closed ‘expanded services’ model will make more sense in a rural context – with government or local authorities perhaps working with community-based transport operators to ensure that public transportation needs are met.
On more profitable routes or locations where there is greater supply and demand for other transport services and modes, e.g. inter-city, inner city and commuter lines, the more open digital marketplaces are likely to flourish.