The new article series “MaaS Monitor” introduces the recent regulatory initiatives from different domains and explains their impacts to development of the Mobility as a Service market and services. The authors of the articles are experts from various MaaS Alliance member organisations. The views expressed in the articles are of authors.

Blog post by Elisa Falliti, Policy Adviser, Automotive Affairs, Leaseurope

MaaS is about integrating different kind of mobility services and enabling access via a single application, thereby creating a platform that helps users to optimise their journey using a variety of interconnected modes of transport.

In 2016 the European Commission’s public consultation on online platforms proposed a definition of online platform as “an undertaking operating in two (or multi)-sided markets, which uses the Internet to enable interactions between two or more distinct but independent groups of users so as to generate value for at least one of the groups”. Already at that time, the European Commission chose to categorise MaaS as a collaborative/sharing economy platform.

This blog post analyses the specific use-case of MaaS as an online platform,  particularly the related  opportunities as well as challenges. It also aims to assess the regulatory intervention by the EC so far as well as next steps, shedding some light on issues that may be relevant from a regulatory perspective.

Opportunities and challenges

According to the European Commission, most EU citizens use online platforms. The online platforms have a potential to  improve consumer choice and convenience, improve efficiency and competitiveness of the industry, and enhance civil participation in society. In the context of digitalisation, online platforms are considered key drivers of innovation. On the other hand, the role of platforms can sometimes be complex since there are cases in which platforms act both as a marketplace as well as a service provider/retailer. This could potentially lead to a competitive imbalance and discrimination which would be reflected for example in a disparity in listings between the services offered by the platform itself and those offered by third parties.

It is a given that successful online platforms are the ones benefitting from a large number of users and the data they generate. In practice, this enables them to become powerful gatekeepers of information and content, as well as rule-setters establishing the rule to access the markets – which they often create themselves – and the conditions on these markets. For instance,  the intermediary role played by MaaS operators allows efficiencies matching supply and demand. In order to avoid creating new bottlenecks, the platform should be obliged to ensure a fair level playing field for all service providers/retailers.

Regulatory framework and challenges

A 2016 study[1] from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) which followed the European Commission consultation’s results shed some light on the role of online platforms as data gatekeepers. In a MaaS ecosystem, the MaaS operator which is also the integrator of different MaaS mobility providers facilitates and monitors direct interaction between providers and users. This reveals a key component of online platforms’ business models; “economies of scope” in data collection and analysis: the more data collected, the more efficient service they can offer. In a simple MaaS integration level, the platforms offer  information about mobility options without  booking or payment integration, the platform helps users to find the preferred mobility option and redirects to the mobility provider platform/app. On an additional integration level, both a list of available services and booking and payments for them would be possible directly from the MaaS app. In both cases the MaaS provider is in a privileged position where they can observe and collect data on user behaviour and ultimately aggregate them to improve their ranking service.

The Regulation (EU) 2019/1150 (EU) “on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services” (Platform to Business, P2B) which was adopted on 31 July 2019 could be of assistance when facing concerns with regards to compliance (liability, terms and conditions, redress). At the same time, the specific case of MaaS could raise issues which were not specifically addressed in the regulation. To some extent this new regulation also touches upon the data management angle, and this is to be further addressed by the European Commission in the future.

Related to MaaS, in the context of the so-called Platform to Business (P2B) regulation, it is worth noting that as of 12 July 202) when the Regulation becomes applicable, it sets terms and conditions (T&C’s) of online platforms as follows:

  • T&C’s have to be drafted in plain and intelligible language: to put this in the context of the MaaS platform displaying the terms and conditions of a MaaS provider, it would be good practice if terms and conditions of underlying mobility services were reported in the same exact wording in order to avoid misinterpretation (this is not requested by the current regulation although a lot of stakeholders were demanding this).
  • T&C’s cannot be changed without an advance notice of at least 15 days.
  • Need to exhaustively spell out any reasons that could lead to the delisting of a business user (in the context of a MaaS provider, this would mean being delisted from the MaaS app).
  • Have to list the main parameters that determine the ranking of search results: in a MaaS app this would usually be determined by the user’s preference, but whether there will be some extra criteria contributing to the ranking of the services offered, such as sponsored content this should be clearly specified).
  • Have to include information about any ways in which a platform that sells on its own marketplace might give preferential treatment to its own goods or services.
  • Have to be clear about the data policy of the platform – what data it collects, whether and how it shares the data, and with whom: MaaS providers can claim that the data collected are for the purpose of delivering a customised travel experience to the user according to the preferences. Preferences might be the criteria determining the ranking as well.

Next steps

The Commission set up an EU Observatory on the Online Platform Economy to monitor the evolution and identify emerging challenges and trends in the online platform economy. Among the topics the Observatory will look at are: issues related to data access and use, non-discrimination, algorithmic decision making or ranking. The platform-to-business (P2B) regulation is an example of an adaptive regulation: a fast review cycle has been envisaged, as the Commission will review it after 18 months as from its date of application to adjust it to changing technological needs.

At European level, a new Digital Services Act is currently anticipated, upgrading the liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products, in the framework of completing the EU Digital Single Market. This may provide an opportunity to ensure a more coherent legislative framework that enables MaaS services to thrive, whilst at the same time keep any potential imbalances in check, thereby benefiting users and providers alike.

Elisa Falliti is Policy Adviser for Automotive Affairs at Leaseurope, the European Federation for leasing and automotive rental, advising on issues such as connected and autonomous driving, mobility as a service, consumer protection, vehicle taxation and engaging with EU relevant policy-makers. Before that, she gained experience as a consultant in transport & mobility in Brussels. She was previously working on European environmental issues within the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and at the General Confederation of Italian Industry as well as at the Italian Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels. Elisa has a background in Political Science and International Relations and holds a master’s degree in International Relations of the University “Roma Tre” in Rome, Italy.

Leaseurope is an umbrella body of both the leasing and automotive rental industries in Europe, composed of 45 Member Associations in 33 countries. Their membership is responsible for purchasing over 40% of all vehicles registered within the European Union annually, representing a value of well over 200 Billion Euros.

 

[1] Bertin Martens (2016) An Economic Policy Perspective on Online Platforms. Institute for Prospective Technological