Helsinki may not be known as the most forward-thinking European city. Apart from its plans to build a giant, green underground data city, it hasn't shown up much on the TreeHugger radar.
Yet that may be changing as the Finns attempt to make Helsinki a city that does urban mobility better than any of us by designing a system that doesn't rely on personal cars. In fact the Finns have set a goal to have zero personally-owned cars in capital city Helsinki by the year 2025. Now that's a laudable goal. How will they do it?
Well, planners are implementing a combination of Big Data, big public transport, many smart phone apps, and universal access to smart phones. Helsinki plans to use these tools to transform its existing public transport network into a point-to-point “mobility on demand” system by 2025. By doing this they hope to make the need for a private car obsolete.
What does that really mean in practice? Well, Finland already has a fairly comprehensive public transport system of buses and trams and a good bike path network, and has added one on-demand component, called Kutsuplus. Kutsuplus picks you up where you want and takes you where you want to go in small mini buses, and costs more than the regular bus but less than a taxi.
As the new system is envisioned, you would use an app on your smart phone to say where you are and where you want to go, and the app would not only give you all the best options, but it would allow you to pay on the spot. This new network, envisioned by a graduate student, would include also cars on demand, but not privately owned.
Interestingly, this new system was designed by a young woman, Sonja Heikkilä. Heikkilä wrote a white paper outlining all the features of the system, which she says will be more attractive to Millenials than car ownership. Here's how it would work, according to Heikkilä:
"Imagine that Piritta boards a tram, alights from it a couple of stops later, and hires a bicycle to travel to work. After work, she orders a car of [sic] demand responsive transport and travels to the sport hall, where her training equipment already waits for her. Finally, after practice she shares a ride in a shared car and travels home. Piritta uses all services through her personal mobility operator and the use of services is charged directly from her account."
Heikkilä and the city of Helsinki are beginning to look at the transport in cities less from a perspective that is car-centric and more from the idea of "mobility as a service" - somewhat in the same way that our personal communications are many different services - calling, texting, data - all provided by one operator. Next year will see the first pilot of the system in one Helsinki neighborhood, in Vallila.