Future Cities - Catapult
helsinki, Connector
The city as Connector: lessons from Helsinki The city as Connector: lessons from Helsinki

With public expectations changing and inner-city populations increasing, Helsinki is tackling the challenge head on with its ‘mobility on demand’ initiative: a compelling vision to provide the city with a comprehensive transport package by 2025.

Helsinki is aiming to render car ownership obsolete by offering citizens a ‘mobility as a service’ app. This will enable users to purchase their ‘mobility’ – whether by bus, taxi, ferry or bike, or a combination of these – at a cheaper price with greater flexibility.

The CITIE team met with Sampo Hietanen, CEO of Intelligent Transport Systems Finland (ITS Finland), a not-for-profit organisation made up of both private and public bodies that is committed to enabling mobility as a service in Finland to understand how the city can play the Connector role.

Four themes came out of our discussion.

  1. Tap into the sharing economy

According to Sampo Hietanen, if we look at the capacity of different modes of transport, the sharing economy is already generating great economic productivity. For mobility, the sharing economy is enabling the better utilisation of public transport and other shared methods, like bicycles, over the use of cars, which often sit unused. Helsinki’s journey planner and payment platform, ‘One Click’, is an example of this: by pulling together all the public transport options via one app, ‘One Click’ seeks to provide the user with the best mobility and price.

The app does this by helping citizens plan their journey better. Normally residents are accustomed to taking a range of services in order to complete one journey. The app allows users to plan their most efficient journey and pay for transport via their smartphones. A user only needs to enter their current and desired destination. The app then takes into account all real-time travel options to construct a seamless journey. A user might for example be able to take a bus to a ferry and then complete their journey by shared bicycle, all of which can be planned and paid for at one click.

To make the experience even more seamless, city officials and mobile networks have teamed up to enable payment by SMS. The Planning Department has also approved plans to make it possible to pay for public transport by the kilometre by purchasing a monthly package of distance rather than purchasing individual tickets.

Helsinki has recognised that multi-modal transport infrastructure is critical to the success of this initiative. A key element of connectivity is Helsinki’s impressive public bike hire service and cycling infrastructure with lanes spanning 1,000km. ‘One Click’ helps public transport to compete with cars in terms of both cost and convenience, and helps entrepreneurs to move easily around the city, enabling fluid working patterns.

  1. Personalised transport on demand

Having linked up different transportation methods, Helsinki has gone a step further to enable seamless travel. In 2013, the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority launched Kutsuplus – an ‘Uber-esk’ mini-bus sharing experiment. Passengers can place an order with ‘One Click’ by entering their current position and final destination, pick-up time and any special requirements such as space for buggies. Kutsuplus then plans the best route for passengers, picking them up and dropping them off at any public bus stop.

Competitively priced to be cheaper than cars or taxis, the service has seen 13,000 sign ups in its first year and, and while still working through challenges, is an innovative means of connecting people.

  1. Working together to drive continuous improvement

Helsinki actively engages citizens and companies to participate in and improve upon its ‘mobility on demand’ initiative. The initiative is advertised around the city to encourage involvement and the city works with companies such as telecoms and transport providers who can help drive innovations.

Transport providers are also encouraged to collaborate with officials and citizens in order to understand how they can improve their services. As residents vote with their feet by using preferred transport and payment methods, the city government analyses collected data to understand public trends and iron out inefficiencies.

By bringing together all actors in a collaborative environment and encouraging dialogue, Helsinki has created an innovative and comprehensive transport package, with scope for continuous improvement.

  1. The role of the city is to unlock the mobility ecosystem for the citizen

The leader in enabling mobility is the city government: the role of the city government is to “unlock the ecosystem of mobility”. The first step argues Sampo Hietanen, is for cities to design a vision for mobility, and then innovate regulation to set-up the market for mobility. If the city leads and “sets up the marketplace and the rules of engagement”, both public and private providers will follow. This also means addressing, through regulation, key issues such as data privacy and consumer protection.

Helsinki’s approach to mobility demonstrates the central role the city can play as a Connector, in an enabling an environment that both its entrepreneurs and citizens can thrive in.