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Helsinki's New Plan To Eliminate Car Ownership

A new mobility on demand system will allow people to instantly call up a bus, car, or bike through one connected app.

[Image: Helsinki traffic via Flickr / Aapo Haapanen]

In 10 years, the city of Helsinki hopes to make it completely unnecessary to own a car. A new "mobility on demand" system will allow people to instantly call up a bus, taxi, or bike through one connected app.

"It combines mobility services—such as traditional public transit, but also car sharing, ride sharing, taxis, and bike shares—into a single comprehensive service," says transportation planner Sonja Heikkilä.

Everything would be available with a single click and an option for either a single monthly fare or payment by the kilometer. Several "mobility operators" would compete to offer the services at the lowest price, while the city continues to run buses and trains. "The city doesn’t want to run the whole system, it just wants to enable this kind of framework to complement public transport with car-like services," explains Heikkilä.

By making alternative transportation seamless, the city wants to eliminate the reasons that anyone would think they need to own a personal car. "There are many people who don't really want to own a car, but they need to for some occasional reasons," Heikkilä says. "They can use public transport, but there is a tiny fraction of trips that they need to make with a car. We want to cover that so we can reach more people with a public transport system."

Last year, the city rolled out a new pilot for something that will likely be part of the system—Kutsuplus, a mini-bus that takes requests by mobile phone and automatically calculates the best route to deliver everyone. It's a little more expensive than the regular bus, but cheaper than a taxi.

By the end of this year, the city will roll out a pilot of the whole system to test with a few large companies. In 10 years, it will be available citywide, and owning a car in the city may quickly become a thing of the past.

"The city is committed to this plan," Heikkilä says. "I think there's an ambition to be the first place to establish something like this."

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