What’s Next for Multimodal Mobility? Level 4 WheelCoin

I have personally known Sampo Hietanen, the Finnish pioneer and “father” of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) for many years. Sampo from day one had a bold vision to get people out of cars on a global scale by offering them a subscription service to greener multimodal mobility.

MaaS Global has been the leading brand in the MaaS industry since its incorporation in 2015 and launch of their B2C app called Whim. MaaS Global has also raised the most amount of money for any pure play MaaS provider ($74mn according to Crunchbase). In the past few years, seemingly frustrated with the slow pace of organic new user acquisition, Sampo went looking for inorganic M&A opportunities in Spain and Brazil.

Like many in the mobility ecosystem, I was concerned to read about the serious financial struggles Sampo and his team at MaaS Global are facing. From personal interactions with Sampo I know for a fact he is not throwing in the towel and that it is premature to be writing the MaaS Global obituary or that of MaaS in general for that matter.

Some of the challenges of scaling MaaS Solutions

However, having operated Iomob as an enterprise mobility network and supporting enterprise MaaS deployments, I know how hard it is to scale this business. While our business model has avoided the painful user acquisition costs that MaaS Global has faced because we offer our mobility network to enterprise customers like Vueling Airlines (35 million annual passengers), Brightline Trains (2 million annual passengers) and more to be announced soon, we also face the challenges of convincing legacy transport operators and digitally native Web 2 “walled garden” mobility services to offer their API so that their services can be integrated into our mobility network and then discovered, routed, booked and paid for inside our microservices infrastructure via APIs and SDKs.

Mobility is a massive industry on a global scale but it is also highly fragmented with tens of thousands of legacy transport agencies and operators, tens of thousands of shared mobility services and 1.5 billion privately owned vehicles too. In short, making sustainable, multimodal mobility available at scale around the globe is an ambitious undertaking to say the least. And given the diverse stakeholders, fragmented market and challenges coordinating the ecosystem, earlier this year we at Iomob returned to our roots with a focus on decentralizing the entire Internet of Mobility (IoM) network as an app chain on Cosmos.

That process is well underway but along the way, we also began thinking that it could very well be time to take a new approach to engaging consumers directly on their journey to sustainable multimodal mobility. WheelCoin was born as an idea only recently at Iomob yet next week we are bringing the beta to market (we originally capped the beta to 5,000 maximum users and it is oversubscribed with many more on a whitelist!).

Level 1 to Level 4 MaaS — Is there an alternative?

WheelCoin turns MaaS on its head, almost literally.

In the MaaS community, the 4 levels of MaaS are considered almost as set in stone as the 10 commandments. Level 0 is what happens in many cities still today, totally fragmented and disconnected walled gardens forcing users to download dozens of apps and figure out how to go from A to B on their own (no wonder so many people with cars prefer to drive their car into downtown despite the costs, congestion and time lost, stress and impact on the planet!).

Level 1 is about integrating information about journey options into one interface. Level 2 enables booking and payment of different mobility services. Level 3, where MaaS Global has sat from the beginning (i.e. their ambitious vision has remained true to this day), involves the bundling of different mobility services into a subscription package instead of just pay as you go from Level 2. To date it is widely accepted that no MaaS solution has truly achieved embedding societal inclusivity and sustainability goals (level 4) which is presumed to be the last stage in the journey for a MaaS solution.

At Iomob we asked a different question and came to a different conclusion. If we want to accelerate the shift to low carbon mobility, does a solution have to be sequentially delivered from level 0 and eventually aspire to level 4? What if we started with level 4 first?

Welcome to WheelCoin! WheelCoin is a Move2Earn gamified app that rewards users for traveling green. But in the beginning it does nothing to solve the current fragmentation problem in the mobility industry. Instead we have turned our attention to leveraging game mechanics to nudge and reward users for their mobility choices. In version 1, already sent to the app stores and going live any day now!, users earn one WheelCoin for every kilogram of carbon emissions avoided had they chosen a normal gas-powered car for that journey. The app detects the users’ movements if they are walking, biking, on public transport, on an intercity train, in a car or in a plane (the latter two come with no rewards but are also not penalized either as it would be too easy for users to turn off their GPS during non-green mobility activities).

We see WheelCoin, the reward, as a type of interoperable “air miles of green mobility” loyalty program. We have already secured a few partnerships with green mobility subscription services who will allow users to burn or exchange WheelCoin in return for discounts on their monthly subscriptions. Many more such partnerships will be brought to our growing global community. Global is highlighted here as another major benefit from going to level 4 first: WheelCoin is born global from day one. Of the 5,000+ beta users already signed up, most of the world is represented, with Tokyo being the number one city of residence!

Compared with MaaS levels 1–3 which by nature have to have a highly local or regional at best deployment focus, starting with level 4 for WheelCoin allowed us to take off those shackles of territorial boundaries.

From 4 to 1?

So if we start from level 4 by embedding societal incentives of making mobility more inclusive (i.e. subsidizing the cost of green mobility via WheelCoin rewards) and accelerating the path to low carbon mobility (i.e. WheelCoin rewards are directly tied to avoided emissions), what about the entire mobility network we have been building at Iomob since 2018? Just this week I had a great call with a journalist from Phocuswire, Linda Fox, who asked me this very question.

Our vision for WheelCoin is to build the world’s largest community of green mobility users and to bring the Internet of Mobility network inside the app over time in markets where we have enough users of the WheelCoin app and where there are enough green mobility suppliers connected to the network (from our enterprise business), or willing to do so in order to reach our unique user base. WheelCoin rewards can increase for users who book green mobility inside the WheelCoin app and of course many more green mobility ecosystem participants will be interested in accepting WheelCoin as a green miles discount program. While our detection system has some limitations (e.g. we can’t know if a user is in a green taxi or unlocked an EV carshare), once we insert the IoM network in, we will know if the user chose other green vehicles (scooters too!) and reward them for that as well.

Concluding Thoughts

Climate change is real and getting scarier by the day. Covid seemed to accelerate even further income inequality and economic challenges for the 99%. Mobility remains fragmented, disencentivizing better, greener mobility choices. Meanwhile the promise of MaaS has not been reached at scale and is a challenge for most who try. So at Iomob, we concluded it was time to try something different than the rest of the industry by looking at the problem from a different perspective, upside down. Check out the WheelCoin website for more information and for the links to the app in Apple (iOS) and Android.

About the Author

Boyd Cohen is the CEO and Co-founder of Iomob, a decentralized internet of mobility (IoM) network. Since obtaining his Ph.D. in strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado in 2001, he spent the past two decades focused on accelerating the path to a low-carbon sustainable economy. This included publishing 3 books, multiple peer reviewed articles, frequently contributing to Fast Company and starting a handful of ventures in the smart cities and sustainability arena.

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Boyd Cohen, Ph.D. CEO IoMob

Boyd Cohen, Ph.D. CEO IoMob

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Boyd is a researcher and entrepreneur in smart, sustainable & entrepreneurial cities, He´s authored 3 books & is CEO of IoMob. boydcohen.impress.ly