8 Dec 2023

Connected mobility apps: well established regionally, with room for improvement nationally

Searching for and booking connections, preferably all in one place: public transport customers are increasingly asking for apps that offer such services - preferably across different modes of transport.

Transport associations are responding to the trend. However, the development is still in its infancy. And it is characterised by setbacks.

IT-TRANS - Woman in tram checking her mobile phone

Success for the Hamburg public transport association: in a recent study by Civity, the HVV Switch app took one of the top places. The consulting agency analysed the customer ratings of mobility apps. The result for HVV Switch: the app can keep up with commercial competitors such as Freenow and is "marginally even better rated".

Laurels for a transport association - with regard to mobility apps, this is by no means the norm in Germany. However, there are also providers who are consistently pushing ahead with their app development, such as local hero KVV, partner of IT-TRANS 2024.

The HVV is a good example of this. In addition to bus and train services, the Switch app now also includes services from companies such as Moia, Sixt Share, Miles, Free2Move, Share Now and the e-scooter providers Tier and Voi. "This means that all relevant free floating car-sharing companies in Hamburg can already be found in the app," says HVV spokesperson Constanze Salgues. The next step will be to connect the HVV Hop on-demand service and StadtRad.

And that's not all. The HVV has also succeeded in making all offers bookable within the app. The transport association does not provide precise information on the purchasing behaviour of users. However, the increasing number of downloads speaks for the success of HVV Switch: the utility programme has been downloaded more than 1.1 million times so far.

Other transport companies are also responding. These include Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe with its BVG Jelbi app, Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft (MVgo), Karlsruher Verkehrsverbund (RegioMove) and Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMVgo). In addition to car and bike sharing providers and e-scooter hire companies, RMVgo now also includes taxi services. However, third-party services cannot yet be booked within the app. Instead, the user is redirected to the respective company.

A break in the user experience, which is still not uncommon in the transport associations' assistance programmes. One reason for this is the lack of standardised interfaces, which makes the deep integration - i.e. making bookings and billing - of third-party services within the app itself more difficult. "Standardisation at this point would make integration much simpler, faster and more attractive," says RMV spokesperson Maximilian Meyer.

What's more, if you want to make offers bookable and billable, you need access to the relevant data from the third-party provider. Transparency and trust are therefore of crucial importance in the collaboration," explains HVV spokesperson Constanze Salgues. However, these are currencies that have not been traded excessively in the entire mobility sector to date due to the fierce competition.

The pressure is growing, especially on the transport associations. Private providers are trying to tap into the business of organising intermodal services. This applies to Freenow, for example, but also to Google Maps. The company from Mountain View in California has been trying to develop its map service into a super mobility app for some time now. In Germany, it already offers services from Deutsche Bahn, Flixtrain and Flixbus, among others. However, these services cannot be booked on Google Maps either. Here too, users are redirected to the respective provider.

The latest developments surrounding the Mobility Inside app show just how difficult it is to increasingly network mobility providers. The aim of the public transport industry's digital networking initiative was to provide passengers with timetable and fare data from bus and rail companies, the booking of sharing offers and on-demand transport as well as other mobility service providers across regions via a single platform. The app has been available for download since April 2022. The initiative was supported by shareholders such as Deutsche Bahn, Stadtwerke München and Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund.

However, the shareholders' meeting has now discontinued its business activities. The reason given was the decision by the federal and state governments not to support a nationwide platform for the Deutschlandticket. However, even before this, the development of the platform was slow.

Nevertheless, Rhein-Main-Verbund criticised the end of Mobility Inside as a missed opportunity. "I think this is a big mistake, as the financial budget for public transport, which has become tighter in the face of constant cost increases, calls for efficient collaboration and cooperation and the realisation of synergies," says RMV Managing Director Knut Ringat.

There is still a long way to go before public transport customers can use a supra-regional mobility app with a wide range of services that can also be booked on the platform itself.