The western extension of the Helsinki Metro has cut commuter traffic on the roads, despite teething problems with the service in Espoo, according to data from the Finnish Transport Agency and analysed by Yle.
That data reveals the number of cars on the Länsiväylä motorway connecting western parts of the capital city region with the Helsinki city centre during the second week of January 2018. Measured from a Finnish Transport Agency station in Hanasaari, the team found that an average of 50,687 cars travelled on the road on weekdays, down from an average of 53,901 cars in October and November of 2017. The extension opened on November 18, 2017.
This translates into a six percent difference. Figures from Tuesday, January 9, when metro lines were down for an hour and a half, saw automobile traffic on the road grow by four percent, meaning that without this service interruption, numbers for the entire week would have been even better.
When compared to figures from the second week of January one year ago, however, the change falls to a decrease of just 0.2 percent. Traffic researcher Pekka Räty from Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) says this is because traffic had been predicted to grow by 3.5 percent in the absence of a longer metro route.
"There's a lot of building going on southern Espoo. Many residents, especially those living next to the Metro stations, will choose to use the underground service, while others might try their luck on Länsiväylä now that the metro has freed up some space on the motorway," he says.
An end to direct buses
But not all Espoo residents live near the Metro stations. Many are dependent on bus lines for public transport. The first phase of the Metro expansion has caused most of the buses that used to connect areas directly with the Helsinki city centre to be cancelled.
HSL has received plenty of angry feedback from people whose commute into the city is now longer. Räty says changes won't be coming any time soon.
"We'll gather the feedback until we have a sufficient amount, so we can see where the true problems lie. Then we'll consider what to do about it. We are talking about a massive infrastructure network here, so we can't jump to swift conclusions. We have to give everything careful consideration," he says.
Even so, the mounting dissatisfaction has propelled the Espoo city council to request immediate action to rectify interconnectivity problems.
Winners and losers
Tapani Iivanainen lives in Matinkylä, and he has just a few-minute walk to the Metro station. At the Ruoholahti stop, he transfers to a tram, which transports him to his workplace at Töölöntori. The whole trip takes a half hour.
"I don't have to sit in traffic in the mornings anymore. I've given up using my car to get around almost entirely," he says.
Anita Prusila lives in Espoo's Iirislahti district. She says the changes have made her work commute 20 minutes longer, for a total of 50 minutes one-way.
"I've got a mind to start using my car again because I have that option," she says.
Räty says HSL received a significant amount of angry feedback for the same reason back in 1982, after the Metro expansion to the east of Helsinki was completed.
"We were still being contacted a few years ago about restoring the direct bus connections there, but over time the feedback diminished. In the end, people were quite satisfied with the situation," he says.
An unexpected 75,000 weekday passengers
HSL's traffic research group leader Marko Vihervuori expects that a 'rail coefficient', familiar in other metropolises worldwide, will eventually attract more customers to the western extension of the Metro line. The principle is that the form of transportation is considered so smooth and efficient that people will be drawn to it, even if it does make their total commute time longer.
It's too early to say if the convenience of the underground option is behind the higher incidence of use, but either way, the extension has exceeded expectations in many ways.
HSL's original estimate of passenger numbers on the Metro once the long-awaited first phase of the extension started running was 60,000. New figures from the first week in January reveal that the average number of weekday passengers was 75,000.
Vihervuori says this number jumped to 80,000 in the second week of January, after people returned to work and school after the holidays.