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”Smart public transport” could cut car journeys

A Helsinki trial could introduce a new way to cut private car journeys: a so-called ‘smart bus’ that takes passengers directly to their final destinations. One researcher claims such systems could reduce private motoring in Helsinki by up to 90 percent from current levels.

Helsingissä toimiva KutsuPlus on eräänlainen taksin ja bussin välimuoto.
Helsinki's 'Kutsuplus' service offers public transport with the convenience of a taxi--at a much cheaper price. Image: Yle

Request a lift from your computer, tablet or smartphone, go to meet your vehicle, pay for your ticket via an online wallet and get dropped off at your final destination. That’s the system Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) is trying out with its ‘Kutsuplus’ scheme and so far 10,000 people have signed up.

In February the service made some 4,000 journeys, and new registrations are running at 1,000 a month. One key advantage is speed.

“Today I took one guy from Viikki to Otaniemi in rush hour, and the journey lasted half an hour,” said Kutsuplus driver Heikki Seppälä. “Yesterday he had gone by bus and it took an hour and fifteen minutes. He certainly left with a smile on his face.”

Big shift over the next five years

Smart transport is predicted to grow exponentially in urban areas across the western world over the coming years. Different trials and experiments are starting on an almost weekly basis across Europe, according to Sampo Hietanan, who heads up the ITS Finland network of smart transport operators.

For example in Hannover there is a scheme that allows people to rent a car or an electric bicycle.

“You could say that it is already beginning to be a tenable replacement for a second car,” said Hietanen.

The cost of owning a private care, difficulties finding a parking place, concern about the environment and declining enthusiasm among young people for acquiring a driving licence are all helping to drive the growth of smart transport.

Ten-fold drop in car use

Hietanen estimates that the number of cars in Helsinki could fall from the current 300,000 to 30,000. Such a change would demand widespread use of automated cars.

“I believe that the next five years will already see a significant change in the number of private vehicles,” said Teemu Sihvola, Managing Director of the company behind Helsinki’s Kutsuplus system, Ajelo Oy.

The future of transport looks to be cheaper and easier than it is now. Kutsuplus offers travel for around half the cost of the same journey made by taxi. The cost of owning a car is also prohibitive, according to Hietanen.

“These structural changes tend to favour the consumer,” said Hietanen. “When you count how much you would pay for this kind of transport package, which includes taxis, rental cars and public transport, then it is really difficult to get them for the sums used now (for a private car).”

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