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The capital of Finland was the first large city to introduce the smartphone-based “Mobility as a Service” multimodal journey planning app as a way to reduce the use of cars within the city.

The port city of Helsinki, the capital of Finland, decided to revise its transport policy, placing special emphasis on digital technology. The city’s recently unveiled mobility plan makes extensive use of technology, and pays special attention to the subscription-based “Mobility as a Service” (Maas) concept.

“The goal is not to completely eliminate the private car, but to reduce the number of private cars in use.”

MaaS combines all public and private transportation modes on a single smartphone app that people can use to calculate the best way to get where they need to go. The ultimate goal is to encourage people to refrain from driving when a wide variety of alternative transport modes are available, including taxis, public transport, scooter and car sharing, car rental and bicycles.

A change in transport policy

Helsinki, which has a population of 640,000 (1.5 million in the Greater Helsinki metropolitan area), has every reason to discourage the use of the private car. The city previously fostered the growth of automobile transport by expanding its road network infrastructure to create more capacity. This inevitably increased traffic within the city and impacted the city’s air quality, which is no longer compliant with European standards.

Today the city authorities are working to transform the transport network across the urban area as part of their plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Apart from the environmental issues, Helsinki needs to address the increased traffic jams that will, if nothing is done, be caused by the city’s expected 40% population growth over the next 35 years.

Alternatives to the car

To design the transformation of its mobility model, the capital turned to a transport engineer, Sonja Heikkilä. She worked out a plan based on the concept of a service bringing together all existing modes of transport to give people a simple, efficient way to stop using their cars.

Sonja Heikkilä considers that the goal is not to completely eliminate the private car, but to reduce the number of private cars in use. To achieve this, Helsinki has introduced the MaaS concept, which relies on all transport operators to feed their user services into the common interface.

Whim, the pioneering app

To initiate its transformation project, Helsinki called on a startup, Maas Global, which specialises in Mobility as a Service and has signed agreements with transport operators and created the Whim app. Users can use the app to build a multimodal route, with the app suggesting, for example, that the user take a bus, then a bicycle and finally a taxi. The user can pay for the various journeys individually or buy a monthly subscription.

For €59.70 per month, the core service includes unlimited public transport and bicycles as well as €10 in taxi travel. For 10 times that amount –€499 per month – Whim provides unlimited use of all types of transport. The price may appear high, but it is warranted, says Sampo Hietanen, co-founder of MaaS Global. “When you calculate the monthly cost of your car, you rapidly see that this service is cheaper.”

This brings us back to the assumption underpinning Helsinki’s project – the assumption that city dwellers will opt to give up their cars and instead use the wide range of transport on offer. For the system to work, says the Whim manager, the app must be able to “ensure that subscribers can obtain a vehicle very rapidly when they ask for one.”

Sampo Hietanen acknowledges that “The car is a symbol of freedom.” Nevertheless, says transport engineer Sonja Heikkilä, changing attitudes and new generations are driving a shift towards MaaS. “Young people, on the whole, prefer to have several transport options rather than investing in their own car.”

Will Paris follow in Helsinki's footsteps?

France is paying close attention to the Finnish Mobility as a Service trial. MaaS is included in the Loi d’orientation des mobilités (LOM), the French mobility bill adopted at its second reading by France’s National Assembly in September 2019. Several cities have taken steps towards introducing MaaS, including Annemasse, Saint-Etienne, Dijon, and Mulhouse, which set up a partnership with Transdev (a Whim shareholder) to introduce a mobility account covering public transport, car parks, bicycles and car sharing. Building on trials carried out by medium-sized cities, Paris could someday follow the trail blazed by Helsinki and convince the inhabitants of the Greater Paris area to give up their cars and adopt Mobility as a Service instead.

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