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Competition authority puts brakes on Helsinki-Tallinn combi travel card

The app-based transport service Whim referred the planned cooperation to the Finnish competition authority.

Matkakortinlukija tallinnalaisessa linja-autossa.
Image: Siim Lõvi/Viron yleisradio

An intervention by the mobility-as-a-service firm Whim has short-circuited plans by Helsinki Regional Transport (HSL) to introduce a combination travel app and card for use in Helsinki and Tallinn.

Last autumn Yle reported that commuters would soon be able to use the HSL travel app to purchase tickets for use on public transportation in Tallinn. However the project appears to be stalling mere weeks before the first phase is rolled out as HSL suddenly announced last week that it would not be selling commuter transport tickets for use in Tallinn after all.

The move came as the app-based transport service Whim, which is backed by the Finnish startup MaaS Global, referred the planned cooperation to the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority, KKV.

Back in 2016, Whim launched as a partnership between the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority (HSL) and MaaS Global.

The firm of offers four tiers of serivce. It's first paid tier, at just under 60 euros per month, users get unlimited access to HSL buses, metros, trains, trams, ferries and city bikes, as well as discounted taxi rides for trips within a 5 km radius and fixed-price car rentals.

HSL barred from commercial ventures

HSL division director Mari Flink said that the issue turns on whether or not selling tickets for another entity – even if it is an authority in another country – constitutes a commercial venture, which HSL is not allowed to do.

"Of course we think that it is good for the matter to be investigated. And on the other hands we do not want to take the kinds of actions that could lead [others] to think that this is no longer up to the [competition] officials," Flink commented.

According to MaaS Global, it does not see any problem with cross-border cooperation between two public transportation providers, however it has asked the authority to provide a statement on conditions for operating in the market and on the roles of players in the field.

In its email response the firm also said that it considered Estonia to be an interesting market, but denied having any plans to expand into the territory.

Helsinki tickets to be available in Estonian app

Officials in Tallinn were far from pleased to hear of HSL’s decision to hold back on providing Tallinn tickets in its app. Tiit Laiksoo, a specialist with the city’s transport authority said it was not clear why HSL made a decision on the matter before consulting with the Finnish competition watchdog.

The Estonians plan to move ahead with plans to offer HSL tickets for sale in the app. At the same time there is still a small chance that the project could still be salvaged.

"On the Finnish side, HSL is still interested in getting its travel card to work on Estonian public transportation," Laiksoo added.

The Finnish-Estonian EU-funded cooperation project still has one year on the clock. According to Laiksoo, during that time the parties should be able to get Estonian systems to work with Finnish travel cards.

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