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Socio-Technical Transition Analysis of MaaS in Northern Ireland

PhD project title

Socio-Technical Transition Analysis of MaaS in Northern Ireland

Outline description, including interdisciplinary and international dimensions (300 words max)

The emerging field of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has the potential to transform the role of transport in future urban centres.  However, despite significant advances in many of the underpinning technologies, there is still no consensus on a scalable ‘best practice’ framework for future MaaS systems, and significant interdependence between the mobility service and the wider ecosystem design. There are also issues around translating from MaaS to ‘Mobility as a Right’, and any successful concept needs to consider the following:

  • MaaS concepts should preserve, or enhance, existing mobility service levels without incurring other negative impacts (cost, impeding a ‘modal shift’ by discouraging walking/cycling);
  • The impact of any MaaS concept on air quality, congestion, mobility service resilience, public health and inclusive economic growth should be carefully balanced;
  • Regional balance between political, economic, environmental and social objectives should be clearly identified;
  • A critical path to delivery of the aspirational MaaS system should be clearly articulated, i.e. a clear ‘urban mobility vision’, alongside the input of and impact on all key stakeholders in this transformative process.

The proposed interdisciplinary project will consider the design of a future MaaS system using Belfast as a case study to understand what benefits/values each stakeholder (consumer, community, operator, local authority, manufacturer) in the ecosystem would aspire to. Roadmaps to delivery will be developed by identifying possible, and desirable, sustainable socio-technical transition pathways.

Drawing on expertise in Policy and Engineering, new understanding of complex independencies between future mobility systems and their urban ecosystem will be developed, identifying characteristics unique to Northern Ireland which may present opportunities/barriers for future concepts, and understanding what a future operationalisation of MaaS may look like within the Belfast city-region context. Through these new issues, the proposed project directly addresses the issue of how technology can be equitably and ethically utilised to evolve our urban mobility systems, with clear consideration of the wider social and economic impacts of these changes.


1 ERCTRAC (2017) Integrated Urban Mobility Roadmap, Joint ERTRAC-ERRAC-ALICE Working Group on Urban Mobility


The proposed project considers an area of current topical interest across the global public transport sector due to the heightened interest in reducing global emissions through displacement of personal cars and reimagining of the future public transport provision.  Studies undertaken by the UK Transport Systems Catapult, American Public Transport Association, Deloitte and others have all shown the future mobility scenarios are unclear, with many complex interactions between the mobility technology and the different stakeholders. The dissemination routes for this work will include presentation of work through the Transport Research Arena, the largest annual European conference on transport and mobility, and the SAE World Congress Experience, held annual in Detroit, USA, which brings together over 9000 attendees annually across the transport sector. Journal publications would be targeted to the Elsevier Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice (Q1 for Transportation Journals) & Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment (Q1 for Transportation journals)

Key words/descriptors



  • Mobility as a Service
  • Mobility as a Right
  • Low Carbon Transitions
  • Socio-Technical Transitions
  • Smart Urban Mobility
  • Sustainable Transport

Fit to CITI-GENS theme(s)

Theme: Information Technology


Globally, cities are becoming more densely populated and provision of transport for these populations is and will (for the foreseeable future) remain a key enabler for social and economic development.  However, the nature of personal mobility in urban environments is rapidly changing, driven by initiatives such as decarbonisation, demographic changes, shared mobility services and increasing  automation. The Mobility as a Service concept is still in its infancy, and there is considerable uncertainty in how this will develop over the coming decades with unanswered questions relating directly to Innovation for Growth in New Technologies for an Ethical Society:


  1. The concept of Mobility as a Service is, in itself, a new innovation which has been proposed as a solution to respond to increasing mobility demands, building on the rapid innovations in connectivity and data analytics;
  2. Increasing demand for innovative multi/inter-modal transport solutions due to growing urban populations is highlighting the need to more efficiently match demand with supply in our transport networks. This opens up questions with respect to how to most effectively meet the changing demand without disadvantaging one (or more) socio-economic groupings through investment (and disinvestment) decisions. There is a huge risk in ensuring that the model is developed around all customer needs to ensure sustained equality of service despite many, potentially conflicting, customer groupings and values;
  1. The dominance of the ‘Data Provider’ in the MaaS concept, who will determine what information is available to the customers and the MaaS operators could ultimately (without appropriate regulation in place) drive the service design – understanding what outcomes are desired from all stakeholders will help shape collaboration and identify potentially new business collaboration options;
  2. Ensuring that any future MaaS concept embodies ‘Mobility as a Right’ as a core principle.

This project touches on challenges spanning ‘Innovation and Digital’ (how access to information and data is changing passenger behaviours) and ‘Infrastructure’ (understanding the future infrastructure needs for public transport in City centres), and will impact on provision of sustainable, next generation public transport solutions which meet aspirations for supporting development of tourism.

Name and discipline of secondary supervisor (from a complementary discipline)

First Supervisor:           Dr Juliana Early                       School: School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Second Supervisor:      Professor John Barry             School: School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics

Third supervisor:          The student will be supported by the Wrightbus Research Manager and wider industrial team

Name of non-HEI partner(s)

The Wrights Group

Contribution of non-HEI partner(s) to the project:



The proposed programme of work has been developed in response to a growing interest in the likely role of the bus in future public mobility services. The company is headquartered in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, which provides ready access to the facility for researchers, and promotes strong engagement between the company, the academic supervision team and the researchers. In addition to the financial support detailed above there is also significant flexibility for arranging multiple placements/secondments to the company as required for the programme. In addition, the Fellow will be hosted in the William Wright Technology Centre at Queens University Belfast, where Wrightbus and Wrights Group staff are regularly on site. There are opportunities to leverage the wider partner networks of Wrightbus and Wrights Group International (suppliers and operators) to achieve project objectives. The proposed academic PI (Dr Juliana Early) is the Deputy Director of the William Wright Technology Centre at Queen’s University Belfast (launched 2017), collaborating with the proposed industrial partner since 2015 on a range of PhD, direct industrial funded and Innovate UK research programmes, and the PI/CI have both collaborated with Wrightbus on the development of a successful £2.62m RCUK application.


Subject area

Future Transport