Helsinki integrates transportation services to reduce reliance on cars

By Bill Holloway

As transportation agencies across the U.S. slowly adjust to new infrastructure, revenue, and policy challenges, Helsinki, Finland is embarking on a radical plan to help its transit system outcompete private car travel.

The city plans to transform its transit system into a “mobility on demand” system by 2025 and is already making significant progress toward this goal with its Kutsuplus minibus service.  Kutsuplus bridges the service gap between taxis and buses—allowing riders to choose their origin and destination bus stops for on-demand rides, all via their smartphones. The system uses an algorithm to develop optimized routes based on where other users are traveling. Less than half the cost of a taxi but more expensive than a bus or the metro, Kutsuplus provides mobility for those not adequately served by fixed route services.

By 2025, Helsinki hopes to have all types of transportation services—parking, bike share, transit, car rentals, carpools, and intercity trains—available via the same online platform. A small-scale employer-based pilot version of the route planner will begin in about six months. Sonja Heikkilä, who has studied the issue in her master’s thesis, commissioned by the City of Helsinki, speculates that private transportation operators may eventually purchase transportation services—rental car usage, transit tickets, etc.—at wholesale prices from providers and sell transportation packages to consumers.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.