Joined-up transport solutions for smart cities

ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2016

Residents of smart cities will in future be linked through their smartphones to mobility integration services that enable them to travel conveniently wherever they wish, switching flexibly between different transport modes. Finland is a global forerunner in the piloting of such services.

The concept of a smart city involves using existing and innovative technologies to make life easier for everyone. We can especially get smarter when it comes to getting around town. A pioneering programme run by Finland’s Ministry of Transport and Communications and Tekes aims to realise the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS).

“The idea is that a single smartphone app will look after all your mobility needs, finding the best way to get where you want to go using any combination of transport modes – and letting you pay for all your mobility needs conveniently through a single system,” explains Sonja Heikkilä who coordinated Tekes’s MaaS programme in 2015, and now works at OP Financial Group, leading a project developing new mobility services.

Mobility on demand

According to Heikkilä, it is already feasible to expand the journey planning services run in many large cities to encompass options like taxi services, shared car rides or even free city bikes, as well as public bus and rail services.

These bundled options will be provided by “mobility integrators”. Working in a whole new business area, these competitive service-providers will run hi-tech systems that display information on timetables, real-time vehicle locations and journey fares on user-friendly interfaces, while enabling you to instantly book all parts of your trip.

“Depending on your agreement with your chosen mobility integrator, you might pay-as-you-go for whatever mode of transport you use, pay in advance for a fixed time period package, or pay afterwards just like the way we pay our telecom bills,” adds Heikkilä.

Such schemes depend on transport operators giving mobility integrators access to their information and payment systems. The Finnish Taxi-Owners’ Federation and national rail company VR are already open to the idea.

“As a small and agile market Finland is an excellent test-bed for such solutions. Finns tend to be open to new technologies, while we also have plenty of people with expertise in smart mobile communications, as well as government agencies keen to support such initiatives,” says Heikkilä.

Heikkilä’s vision of future integrated mobility services in Helsinki, as set out in her Master’s thesis for Aalto University, has attracted international interest. Foreign Policy magazine listed her among their 100 Leading Global Thinkers in 2014.

After developing apps and services through the MaaS Programme during 2015, budding Finnish mobility integrators including, Tuup, Tziip and TeliaSonera aim to expand their pilot schemes with real users during 2016. Interested cities include Helsinki, Tampere, Seinäjoki, Hämeenlinna and Turku, while the ski resort of Ylläs in Finnish Lapland is planning a unique scheme to help tech-savvy visitors get to, from and around the resort.

“There’s been a lot of international interest in how we’re pioneering the MaaS concept in Finland,” says Sonja Heikkilä.Photo: Ari Heinonen

Trains and boats and planes

“Though it takes time to change attitudes and behaviour, such systems could become large-scale within a couple of years,” says Heikkilä. “There’s been a lot of international interest in how we’re pioneering the MaaS concept in Finland. We believe such schemes can be scaled up and replicated through international cooperation to enable travellers to use similar interoperable services anywhere in the world through ‘roaming’ mobility services like those we already use for telecoms.”

Airlines and shipping companies can be integrated, while in some localities vehicles delivering goods or the post could also carry passengers attracted through mobility integrators.

Heikkilä believes the time is ripe for such schemes, since attitudes towards mobility among the smartphone generation are changing fast. “Young people in cities no longer feel it’s so important to have their own car,” she says. “Instead they appreciate the flexibility of switching between private and public transport modes, as well as the economies of crowdsourcing solutions such as sharing a car or a ride.”

Though such multimodal mobility trends may mainly be driven by demands for convenience, they will also mean cleaner air and more space for pedestrians and cyclists on city streets.

By Fran Weaver, October 2016