In at least one Scandinavian city, owning your own car may not be necessary a decade from now, thanks to the forward-looking plans of the government of Helsinki, Finland.
While the goal of eliminating the need for private car ownership in that capital city within 10 years may seem incredibly ambitious, it’s a laudable initiative, considering the benefits that could come to both the city and its citizens alike if it were to come to fruition. However, there are some major hurdles to cross before Helsinki could go virtually car-less in the future, but considering that we’re not talking about putting a man on the moon here, but merely creating a viable transportation architecture with (mostly) the tools already at hand, perhaps those hurdles are much lower than we might think.
One of the main challenges in getting to a point where owning your own vehicle is unnecessary is in creating a seamless and integrated private and public transportation system, as opposed to having separate fees, schedules, and routes for buses, trains, taxis, ridesharing services, etc., each of which is in their own virtual silos and not necessarily connected to other segments of a given journey across town.
By leveraging the digital revolution, where many citizens already have a device capable of being used for summoning an on-demand ride from a variety of services in the near future, as well as acting as a virtual payment gateway, with a changed perception of the transportation system away from separate, individual providers to a mobility-centric system, where getting a citizen from one point to another, across a range of transportation modes, it may be possible to build the car-less mobility system of the future.
With an integrated mobility solution available, which would include multi-modal transport options, citizens could purchase a single kilometer-based package that would cover a range of fees, from trains to buses to bike rentals to ridesharing options or potentially even autonomous taxis, each of which might have different rates per kilometer, but citizens wouldn’t need to manage multiple passes, fees, or payment modes.
In other words, mobility would truly be more of a service than a single transportation solution, and as advanced as the individual solutions are becoming, from electric buses to hybrid cars to ebikes, the implementation of these solutions aren’t exactly holistic or integrated, and some may even be incompatible with others. According to the Helsinki Times, transportation engineer Sonja Heikkilä of the Helsinki City Planning Department, who wrote her master’s thesis on the potential that a kind of ‘mobility as a service’ system could have, there are not only technical hurdles to overcome, but also a culture change. “A car is no longer a status symbol for young people,” said Heikkilä, and the younger cohort is “more adamant in demanding simple, flexible and inexpensive transportation.”
In an excerpt from Delivering on Digital: The Innovators and Technologies That Are Transforming Government, published on FastCoexist, author William D. Eggers explains how it might work:
Bus routes would be dynamic, changing based on demand at any given moment. From planning to payment, every element of the system would be accessible through mobile devices. Citizens could use their phones to arrange a rideshare, an on-demand bus, an automated car, special transport for children, or traditional public transit. They could purchase “mobility packages” from private operators that would give them a host of options depending on weather, time of day, and demand.
Helsinki is already experimenting with certain aspects of this kind of ‘mobility as a service’ model, and according to AutoBlog, “The Helsinki Regional Transport Authority came out with an innovative minibus service called Kutsuplus that allows riders to specify their own pick-up points and destinations through their smartphone. The app then categorizes and calculates a route that is optimal for all of the riders.” Based on the results of this pilot program, the model could then be rolled out to other cities, or even adapted to other transit modes, in the future.
Image: Lauri Rantala via Flickr, under CC2.0 license