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There’s No App for Getting People Out of Their Cars

“Mobility as a Service” boosters say that technology can nudge drivers to adopt transit and micromobility. But big mode shifts will take more than a cool app.  
In Seattle, car ownership is down and bus ridership is up. But technology didn't drive this shift: more transit funding and better service did.
In Seattle, car ownership is down and bus ridership is up. But technology didn't drive this shift: more transit funding and better service did.Elaine Thompson/AP

Fewer concepts are trendier in urban mobility circles right now than the idea of “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS). Boosters of the concept hail it as a means of weaning commuters off privately owned automobiles via technology platforms that allow them to easily book and plan trips across an array of urban transportation services—including transit, bikeshare, ride hail, e-scooters, and more. If you can make MaaS platforms painless to use, the story goes, people will happily ditch private cars, leaving our cities cleaner and safer.

That’s a laudable goal. But is technology alone capable of achieving it? Without the support of a mix of policy carrots and sticks, it’s hard to see how.