Helsinki looks to car-free future with integrated 'on demand' transport system operated by smartphone

City plans to reduce use of private vehicles by upgrading its transport network to an integrated 'on-demand' system operated via smartphone

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 8:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 1:00am


The Finnish capital, Helsinki, has revealed plans to transform its existing public transport network into a "mobility on demand" system that will be so good nobody will need to own a car.

It aims to have the comprehensive, point-to-point network up and running by 2025, with people purchasing mobility straight from their phones.

The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.

Subscribers would specify an origin and a destination, and perhaps a few preferences.

The app would then function as both a journey planner and payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single mesh of mobility.

Helsinki Regional Transport Authority rolled out an innovative minibus service called Kutsuplus last year. It allows riders to specify their own desired pick-up points and destinations via smartphone. The requests are aggregated and the app then calculates a route that most closely satisfies them all.

All of this seems calculated to serve the mobility needs of a generation that is comprehensively networked and acutely aware of motoring's ecological footprint.

It is also a generation - if opinion surveys are correct - that is not that interested in the joys of car ownership to begin with.

Kutsuplus comes very close to delivering the best of both worlds - the point-to-point convenience that a car affords, yet without the onerous environmental and financial costs of ownership.

It costs more than a conventional trip by bus, but less than a taxi fare over the same distance.

But public transit providers have an obligation to serve the entire population and not merely those who can afford a smartphone and are happy using it.

It matters, then, whether Helsinki is proposing a collective next-generation transit system for the entire public, or just a high-spec service for the rich.

Helsinki is not proposing to go entirely car-free. Many people in Finland have a summer cottage in the countryside and rely on a car to get to it.

But it's clear urban mobility badly needs to be rethought for the digital age, with commuters who retain expectations of personal mobility ingrained by a century of private car ownership.