As the CEO of a high-tech transportation startup, one that’s trying to get rid of private car ownership, Sampo Hietanen has a surprising idol: Henry Ford.
“He introduced the dream of freedom of mobility,” said the Finnish entrepreneur, whose company, Maas Global (short for “mobility as a service”) is in the midst of rolling out a new app he believes can live up to a long-held vision of seamless urban transportation.
MaaS recently launched Whim, an app which helps knit together different urban transportation networks to create what they’re calling a single solution to urban mobility. Users open Whim, enter their destination, and pick from a number of potential options and routes, including buses, trains, taxis, bikes, and cars (the system currently connects with Sixt, a car-rental company, and is looking at integrating Uber and Lyft in the future).
What sets Whim apart is that planning and payment are all taken care of in a single app; via a monthly fee (249 Euros) or per-trip basis, users can chart their path through the city seamlessly without added guesswork, and make their way without payment hassles.
At a time when many city planners are working onintegrating services such as Lyft and Uber to help solve their first mile/last mile problems, and building out bike shares and other sustainable transportation infrastructure to lower carbon emissions, a mobile service such as Whim helps make new options more accessible, all while reducing car ownership (and congestion).
“It’s not enlarging public transport, it’s bringing the dream of freedom of mobility to people,” proclaims Hietanen.
For all the attention Whim has received from publications such as The Economist, the app isn’t introducing a radical new technology to the road. It pulls travel information from APIs (application programming interfaces) set up by transport providers and public agencies, and uses other routing services to direct users, all utilizing pre-existing mobile networks. And other apps, cities, and developers are working towards similar products. Go LA, a Xerox-backed service in Los Angeles, offers the planning and a fraction of the payment options.
The innovation, according to Hietanen, is usability and vision. Whim functions as a mobility operator, connecting the transit ecosystem while focusing on the user experience. Transit companies can focus on services and schedules, while Whim connects different legs of a trip together.
“Everyone talks about multimodality, which is an underlying part of it,” says Hietanen. “But we want to provide a complete solution. If you don’t provide that it’s not living up to that dream. Look at car ownership. It’s not young people’s dream to own a car. They often feel forced to buy a car to have a good quality of life.”
Hietanen sees the marketplace aspect of Whim as one of its most appealing strengths, since no single player today can link together so many options while processing payments. When the app scales up, he also believes it can encourage more experimentation in the transport sector. New providers can join Whim and instantly have access to a new consumer base, which may allow more experimentation, as new transit solutions won’t have to develop an app or build an audience. The app also helps cities by providing expanded coverage for citizens without requiring the city to invest in mobile infrastructure.
After a year of development, MaaS recently launched a small test in Helsinki, and will slowly ramp up the customer base as it slowly iterates and improves, and irons out any issues that come from integrating with so many third-party service providers. Hietanen says they’re already looking at expanding to additional Finnish cities this year, and considering North American expansion for next year.
NEXT UP IN TRANSPORTATION
By Patrick Sisson on Curbed, 14 June 2017
Finland is ready for robot buses. After a series of trials, Helsinki will debut regular autonomous bus service this fall, according to a statement by city transportation officials.
As Curbed reported last August, the city began trials last summer with a pair of electric-powered EasymileEZ-10 vehicles, which carried up to 12 public passengers along a fixed route in Helsinki’s Hernesaari neighborhood. With an operator on board in case of emergencies, the bus traversed a quarter-mile course at a leisurely 11 kilometers per hour (7 m.p.h.). Now, the city feels confident enough with early results to move from the experimental phase to regular, scheduled service.
The buses were previously tested on closed roads in the Netherlands and in a small Finnish town just north of Helsinki. But the successful urban trial, one of the first in the world, has now led to a potential first: regular autonomous transportation service. Many experts believe this may be the first true application of autonomous transportation technology that will reach the masses.
The final route, launch date, and schedule of the RoboBusLine will be announced later this year. City authorities believe this technology can help solve the last-mile issue and potentially deliver transit riders right to their homes. The ultimate goal is to increase public transit usage, part of the city’s goal to build a mobility-on-demand service that makes car usage and private ownership pale in comparison.
Trials thus far have been run by Sohjoa, an EU-financed joint project by the six largest cities of Finland, Finnish universities, and transportation authorities. In addition to test-runs in Helsinki, the minibuses have also hit the road in the cities of Espoo and Tampere. This July and August, another shuttle test will take passengers from Helsinki’s Mustikkamaa recreational island to Helsinki Zoo. Finland has become a leader in self-driving technology due to a quirk in its laws: every vehicle on the road technically doesn’t require a driver.
These experiments are all part of a larger European Union initiative, the mySMARTLife program, which seeks to cut energy consumption and develop urban solutions to mitigate climate change.