Friday, July 18, 2014

Helsinki's ambitious plan to make car ownership pointless in 10 years

By Jim Meyer

Finland's capital hopes a 'mobility on demand' system that integrates all forms of shared and public transport in a single payment network could essentially render private cars obsolete.


 

The Finnish capital has announced plans to transform its existing public transport network into a comprehensive, point-to-point "mobility on demand" system by 2025 – one that, in theory, would be so good nobody would have any reason to own a car.

Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. 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 journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here.

That the city is serious about making good on these intentions is bolstered by the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority's rollout last year of a strikingly innovative minibus service called Kutsuplus. Kutsuplus lets riders specify their own desired pick-up points and destinations via smartphone; these requests are aggregated, and the app calculates an optimal route that most closely satisfies all of them.

The future is always changing. Back in the day, they promised a flying car in every garage. Now that the future is almost here, it’s looking like a no-go on the winged Chevy. In fact, in Helsinki, Finland, the future could mean empty garages. Turns out that in an age when we carry the sum of all human knowledge around in our pants pockets, some better ideas come up.

The Finnish capital is planning a comprehensive and flexible smartphone-enabled travel network that could be online by 2025. The system will combine small buses, self-driving cars, bicycles, and ferries. Users will simply enter their destination into an app and the system will suggest where to transfer from car to bike, for instance, and arrange for the vehicles — and do it all for one easy and inexpensive payment.

Adam Greenfield at the Guardian has more on the plan:

  • Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. 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 journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here. …
  • All of this seems cannily calculated to serve the mobility needs of a generation that is comprehensively networked, acutely aware of motoring’s ecological footprint, and – if opinion surveys are to be trusted – not particularly interested in the joys of private car ownership to begin with.
It’s no wonder the Finns are out ahead on this one. Traveling by car in Finland, a land where the roads seemed paved with danger, is a terrifying proposition. There are a staggering 3,000 to 4,000 reindeer-related collisions annually in Northern Finland alone. Compare those frightening figures with L.A., where there hasn’t been a single reindeer related accident in months. Why, even Maija, Finland’s beloved traffic safety reindeer, isn’t safe.

Helsinki isn’t the only city trying to put personal car ownership in the past. There’s a similar, smaller effort afoot in downtown Las Vegas, of all places. But in compact Helsinki, it’s a system that makes a lot of sense. And now that futurists have given up on the flying car, they can get to work on that practical jetpack they’ve been promising.

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