Last year, an article in Business Insider identified the 18 most innovative cities in the world. Helsinki was one these cities and was selected for its “super innovative transit system – one that will soon have a real-time marketplace for customers to choose among transport providers and piece together the fastest or cheapest way of getting where they need to go”.
Cities around the world are facing issues of congestion (costing trillions of dollars annually) and challenges related to much-needed efforts to reduce GHG emissions. According to a recent US study, growth in congestion is “outpacing the nation’s ability to build the roads, bridges, trains and other infrastructure to handle all these people on the move”.
Helsinki appears to have found a sustainable mobility solution that will, for all intents and purposes, eliminate the need for personal vehicle ownership by the city’s residents because it will provide them with attractive, accessible alternatives. The goal? To get there by 2020.
The solution? Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Very simply, this is a mobility distribution model where all of a user’s transportation needs are met using a single interface and managed by a mobility service provider. Access to all modes of mobility (including but not limited to bus, tramway, metro, train, taxi, car sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing) is gained through the use of a personal smart device.
According to one of the architects of Helsinki’s new mobility system, Sampo Hietanen (ITS Finland CEO), the goal is to create sustainable customer centric transportation. The vision of this innovative “Public-Private-People partnership” is that the various modes of transportation blend to the point where boundaries between them are “blurred” or disappear completely.
Clearly, this is a system that is very technology dependent, involving the interaction between user, vehicle and environment. According to Traffic Lab, the project launched by the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications to promote a market in intelligent transport services, in the future, mobility “will be a service provided by companies and facilitated by the authorities”.
The cost of using this shared multi-modal mobility will be less expensive than that paid by the average citizen to access such services today. That’s fantastic as there is more disposable income left in users’ pockets.
The project team undertook market research with residents and future users. One group that was particularly researched was composed of employers offering car benefits, including company cars and parking spots, and the personnel using these company cars and parking facilities. The intent of the research was to determine interest in replacing the current transportation benefits (provided or received) in exchange for mobility credits that would be provided by employers to the accounts of the individual members of the personnel. The research revealed that a whopping 80% of respondents indicated a willingness to try such an exchange.
What is even more interesting, but not obvious on the surface, is that this is also an economic development initiative. Finland has no automotive industry to protect and lacks domestic sources of fossil energy. The country must import both vehicles and the fuel to power them. This hurts its trade balance and creates little domestic employment.
Suppliers, managers and operators of mobility services, on the other hand, will use locals to provide the services, thereby increasing employment. Further, companies interested in entering the Finnish mobility market to provide some of these services will result in additional investment into the Finnish economy.
The use of electric propulsion will reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The increased utilization of shared multimodal mobility will not only have a positive impact on reducing congestion and GHG emissions but it will lower the number of individually owned passenger vehicles that will be imported.
Congratulations to the architects of this transportation / environmental / economic vision. Congratulations to the government of Finland for having the foresight to undertake a program that exceeded their time in office and for recognizing that what’s good for the environment is also good for the economy.