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App to revolutionize Finland’s transportation

Helsinki is hoping that an app that links and collects payment for all of the city’s available transport methods will reduce the need for car ownership, reports ThinkProgress. The app would connect users with a comprehensive guide to all transportation options in the city: subways, buses, taxis and ferries, as well as car and bike sharing services. The hope is that “…Ten years from now, transportation in Helsinki may operate very differently from the current system,” reports the Helsinki Times.

Helsinki department store with crowds and light rail

Normally a forbidding place without access to a car, Finland is developing an app that will fully integrate car-sharing with other transport methods, reducing car ownership. From Kallu.

App users would enter their starting point and destination, and the app would provide a route for their trip, incorporating user preferences, the weather, and the amount of travel time needed. Though the payment plan is different for each method of transportation (ranging from monthly fees to pay-per-kilometer, depending on the mode), the user would only make a single payment using the app, regardless of how many transportation options she takes advantage of. The app would function as both a trip-planner and a payment system.

The concept behind the app, termed “mobility on demand,” is largely the brainchild of a 24-year-old engineer, Sonja Heikkilä, who envisioned a real-time marketplace where people could explore disparate transportation options to find their cheapest or the quickest route. (Her thesis called for “an actual marketplace: multiple apps created by different private companies, all competing for who can do the best job of packaging and planning transportation for customers,” reports ClimateProgress.)

Helsinki has experimented with mobility on demand before. The Helsinki Regional Transport Authority launched a program in 2012 called Kutsuplus that allows users to plan trips on a minibus network. While that system didn’t intend to reduce car ownership, it does aim to increase the ease of public transportation. Now, the city plans to gradually phase out the need for car ownership, by, as The Guardian reports, “furnish[ing] riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.”

As The Guardian notes, there remain a few concerns, including how well Finland’s vast exurbs will adapt to the tool (although with the city’s “arterials and ring roads as choked as they are, it feels imperative to explore anything that has a realistic prospect of reducing the number of cars, while providing something like the same level of service,” The Guardian points out). Another concern is fairness of access: The public transport system is required to serve the entirety of the population, not just those able to pay for a smartphone outfitted with the proposed app.

Reduced car ownership would cut carbon emissions, free up city space traditionally used for parking, and would reduce Helsinki’s carbon load. The plan isn’t to remove every car from the capital — in fact, car-sharing is a part of the app — but rather to reduce Helsinki’s perceived over-reliance on vehicles. As engineer Heikkilä observes, “Once the car is parked in the yard, it is often used excessively.”

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