30 Nov 2016

HELSINKI DEVELOPS APP TO REDUCE CAR USAGE

To encourage car drivers to use public transportation, the local government of Helsinki is working with a local tech company’s smartphone app that lets people combine public transit with car rentals, ride sharing, taxis, and other private sector services, MIT Technology Review reported.

The app, called Whim, provides users with the best route to get to their destination, whether it’s by bus, train, or car. And, if you're happy with the plan, you can approve the trip and it's automatically paid for, the report said. The app was made available for test users in October. Before you go somewhere using Whim, you enter a destination, and the software subsequently designs the best route to get you there, whether it’s by bus, train, or car. If you're happy with the plan, you can approve the trip and it's automatically paid for. The app currently requires a monthly subscription, but single-trip payment could become an option in the future.

Whim will soon become available in additional markets, first in Birmingham, England, possibly later in Toronto or Montreal, and a number of U.S. markets after that, says Sampo Hietanen, CEO of MaaS Global, the company that created the Whim app. MaaS stands for “mobility as a service,” a term being used for this type of approach.

Helsinki seems a good place to test the idea. It has a high rate of mobile phone use and good digital infrastructure. Public transit use is high, too: of its 1.2 million people, 900,000 have used public transportation at least once in the past six months. Strong government support for the idea has been pivotal, because transportation systems are generally fragmented among different state and city authorities and departments. 

One concern is that apps like these might leave public transit systems without a connection to their customers. Mari Flink, who runs communication and marketing for the Helsinki Transport Authority, notes that Whim could promote more car sharing and thus decrease the use of public transit. To monitor that, the Helsinki Transport Authority is watching to see how many new users the app brings to public transport.

 



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