How Finland is Revolutionising the Future of Urban Transport

Photo of Claire Lancaster
Tech & Entrepreneurship Editor12 April 2018

With two-thirds of the world’s population set to live in cities by 2050, creating accessible, environmentally-sustainable urban mobility solutions has become a priority for city planners and civic-minded entrepreneurs. In Finland, citizens have turned to a joint public-private transport solution known as mobility-as-a-service (MaaS).

It’s -20° in Helsinki. Judiciously removing a single finger from my gloves, I quickly punch an address into Whim, a mobility app from Helsinki-based MaaS Global that lets people access both public and private modes of transport – including local trains and buses, taxis, bike share and rental cars – on a single platform, for a set monthly price.

By putting all existing forms of transport into a single app and payment platform, Whim is changing mobility by turning its access into a set-price subscription – the same way Netflix and Spotify disrupted entertainment.

“If you’re trying to figure out the best way for mobility to work in a city, it makes sense to have people pay a fixed amount and get unlimited access to different modes of transport,” Whim design lead Apaar Tuli tells Culture Trip. “Choosing – on a whim – how to travel depending on your need that day, rather than having five different apps with five billing mechanisms gives you a lot of flexibility.”

Whim also frees users from the inconveniences and expenses of private car ownership.

“Our ultimate goal is to get rid of privately-owned cars. There’s nothing wrong with a car per se, but as a product system it hasn’t been designed very efficiently,” says Tuli. “Generally speaking, a car is used four or five per cent of its lifetime, which is a tremendous waste of resource. As a designer, it bothers me that we have created a product that is used so little but costs so much to make and maintain and dispose of. We need smarter solutions.”

By reducing people’s dependence on private vehicles and advancing the idea of a joint public-private transport system, Whim hopes to help alleviate pollution, increase collaboration between private and public transport sectors and even reduce inequality by making transport more accessible – regardless of factors like how close people live to public transport links.

Like other smart city solutions, Whim uses artificial intelligence (AI) and user data to optimise its offering – learning a user’s preferences over time to provide personalised and real-time route suggestions.

“By looking at your transport preferences, your travel time, environmental factors, speed and the way you spend money on transport, Whim will be able to give you better recommendations,” explains CXO and co-founder Kaj Pyyhtiä.

“You could choose to just get on a bus or take a taxi, but we want to tell you how to get there most conveniently. If our algorithms know it’s freezing outside, Whim will say: ‘You normally take a bus, but would you like to take a taxi today instead?’ It will know your habits, predict your demands, and order the cab for you.”

Unlike games or social apps, which earn money by mining user data and selling it to advertisers, Whim says its committed to keeping user data in their hands.

“Our policy is that if you’re our customer, it’s your data. Our business plan is not like the Googles and the Facebooks of the world where your data is the product and that’s what they sell. We want to create an open ecosystem and give customers the option of taking their data set and switching operators,” says Pyyhtiä, who predicts a future where mobility operators compete for customers similar to today’s telecomm operators.

“It’s about opening the city up with data and access, but also about enabling people,” says Whim CEO and co-founder Sampo Hietanen. “By creating a groundwork with forward-thinking policy and regulation – through human-centred services, better offerings, and choice, better systems will be co-created by the users themselves.”

With planned global expansion ahead – across Europe, but also as far afield as Singapore – Hietanen wants create an ecosystem of existing services scaled to a global roaming network.

“The big dream is that in early 2020, Whim will be worldwide. Of course, a one-size-fits-all MaaS blueprint won’t work for all cities, but every city has potential for innovation.”

Whim has been downloaded by more than 30,000 Finns since its Helsinki launch in 2017. The urban monthly package, allowing unlimited HSL journeys within Helsinki’s borders, is available for €49. A Helsinki monthly public transport pass costs €55. From April 2018, Whim will be available in Birmingham, UK.

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