A unique app and a single pricing granting access to all transport modes available in the city: this is how Helsinki, pioneer of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), intends to revolutionize urban transport.
For the past two years, getting around the City of Helsinki has been as simple as a click. By connecting to “Whim”, locals and visitors enter their route and are offered the combination of transport most suited to their needs and preferences. The same app also allows them to pay for their journey either individually or through various subscription packages.
This is the principle of MaaS, Mobility as Service, which helps users seeking above all for the most effective way to move, regardless of the transport modes employed. Users thus choose one of the routes proposed by the app, and pay the price including the use of all the necessary modes (the various public transport, of course, but also taxis, car rental or even self-service bikes). It is no longer a question of choosing between individual transport, public transport, on-demand transport, soft mode or shared mobility: the app offers everything, instantly.
One goal: abandon the individual car
“While the user had to adapt to the constraints of the different transport operators, it is now transport that is at the service of the user”.
A single operator, a single ticket, a route booked and paid via smartphone: we measure the extent of progress for the user, in terms of saving time, flexibility and comfort. For public authorities too, this new way of thinking about mobility is revolutionizing transport policy. With its 1.5 million inhabitants, the City of Helsinki faced the same problem as most European capitals: a continuous population growth and a too high proportion on people using their car. There was an urgent need to curb traffic congestion and the resulting health consequences in terms of pollution. In light of this, the Finnish metropolis has embarked on an ambitious plan for 2025, taking advantage of an innovative ecosystem. MaaS Global, the start-up that creates the Whim app, is itself from Helsinki, displaying its solution in the Finnish capital, before successfully spreading it elsewhere in Europe, notably in Antwerp and Birmingham.
MaaS in Helsinki: the conditions for the emergence of these new services
The goal of the City of Helsinki is to see its inhabitants abandon their individual cars altogether. In a society structured by the use (and ownership) of the car, the change promises to be radical. In Helsinki, the world of urban transport itself has been forced to rethink its practices. For a single platform to integrate all the timetables and journeys of the multiple transport operators, their collaboration must be total. This includes opening up their datas. This transition of carriers to open data constitutes a requirement imposed by Finnish law, which has allowed the emergence of private players such as MaaS Global.
The MaaS, a fundamental element of the Smart City
“While Helsinki is a pioneer in this field, markets for this new form of mobility are emerging, and are coveted”
The abolition, or at least reduction, of the boundaries between public and private transport operators is indeed a feature of the Mobility as a Service. Platforms such as Whim act as intermediaries, purchasing transport services from multiple operators and reselling them to their customers, taking a commission on the way.
The formulas offered are varied: single rates, weekend, weekly or monthly subscriptions… and, the most comprehensive service, the monthly subscription giving unlimited access to all transport, including taxi or car hire.
In Helsinki, this unlimited subscription is available for 499 euros. Behind this seemingly high price, the start-up hammers home its flagship argument: “The app gives you all the advantages of the car but without the disadvantages of ownership, and at a cheapest cost than the monthly cost of an automobile.”
Conquering and retaining a large audience among the people of Helsinki is a challenge for MaaS Global, which aims to achieve financial balance in a few years. In a largely deregulated sector, competitors have emerged, offering their own Mobility as a Service app.
Like the mobile phone market, we can expect a diversity of operators, competing for services and prices to involve Helsinkiers. Elsewhere, such as France with SNCF, “historic” operators are also interested in this emerging market.
But in the immediate future, Helsinki is where the mobility of the future is emerging: flexible and instantaneous, based on artificial intelligence and open data, the Mobility as a Service is now an entire part of the smart city.