Mobility on demand: everything in just one ‘app’

Helsinki’s on demand mini bus service

Even tough Helsinki’s modal share is considered to be really sustainable –with 43% of inhabitants moving in non-motorized modes and 34% in public transportation [1] — they want to take the next step forward and try to make car ownership unnecessary by 2025.

In 2014, the Finnish capital announced their ‘mobility on demand’ project which aims to integrate all forms of shared and public transport in a single payment network. The ultimate goal is to provide a point-to-point service at an affordable rate with such a level of service that eventually nobody will have a reason to own a car. The main concept is to allow people to purchase real time mobility directly from their smartphones through an app. Customers would specify origin, destination and preferences and then the app would work as a journey planner and a payment platform. The modes of transportation include driverless cars, mini buses, shared bikes or ferries [2].

This would certainly cause a revolution in the way people move around the city and would make payments a lot more convenient and at the same time would provide valuable information about mobility paths. Positive externalities may include reduction in travel times, increase in Ligh-Duty-Vehicles occupancy rates, fleet rationalization and therefore congestion, pollution and GHG emission reduction. However, these services that are more affordable than taxi and more convenient than mass transit may cause a shift from transit to this ‘on-demand service’. While this desirable in the case of shared bikes, encouraging modes that are not as efficient as mass transit is not recommended. If the shift is significant for driverless vehicles or mini buses, the possible outcome would be an increase of vehicles in the street and could result in negative externalities.

In conclusion, it is important to promote this kind of services in a controlled way, without forgetting that not all the people in society have access to smartphones and that mass and non-motorized modes should remain always as the main modes of transportation in a sustainable city.