In happiest place in the world, start-up targets car addiction

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This content was published on May 30, 2021 – 04:00 AM

(Bloomberg) – The idea is simple: transportation service so good you’ll never need a car again.

This is what the Finnish startup MaaS Global Oy has been working on since 2015. The company has developed a mobile application, Whim, which is already in use in several European cities and in Tokyo. In the capital of Finland, the happiest country in the world, 12% of users already say it made them give up their car, and as much to say that they plan to do so.

MaaS Global, whose investors include BP Plc, Mitsubishi Corp. and Toyota Financial Services, says its app can solve urban congestion and reduce pollution. It’s how research shows that living in an environment with cleaner air measurably contributes to happiness and well-being.

CEO Sampo Hietanen says creating a world in which it is more convenient not to have your own car is an obvious way to reduce carbon emissions in the transport sector. In the United States alone, transportation accounts for nearly 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other industry.

“Realistically, if we are to tackle CO2 emissions from transport, we have to find a way to preserve our freedom of movement in the same way as owning a car,” Hietanen said in an interview.

Whim, which has just merged with Wondo, a Spanish rival founded by infrastructure company Ferrovial SA, offers users the ability to plan and pay for a trip through a single app. It provides access to a range of services such as electric scooters, city bikes, public transport and even fixed-price taxis for short distances. Services vary from city to city, with up to 300,000 people using Whim worldwide.

Whim and Wondo work as route planners, suggesting the best way to get from point A to point B, and offer the option to purchase tickets or reserve vehicles in their apps. In addition to pay-as-you-go plans, Whim offers monthly subscriptions – much like Netflix for entertainment.

“We’ve learned that the pricing model has to be pay-as-you-go up front, because people want to try it out first before committing to subscriptions,” said Hietanen, also founder of the company. .

But recent studies in the UK and the Netherlands suggest that people are very attached to their cars and that these services tend to attract mainly commuters who already use public transport.

“The value of MaaS is not in beating the convenience of the private car, which is rather unrealistic, but in creating a multimodal travel option that gives people the opportunity to be part of an initiative designed to create more more socially inclusive and sustainable future lives, ”wrote Elena Alyavina, Alexandros Nikitas and Eric Tchouamou Njoya of the University of Huddersfield in the UK in a research report.

For Hietanen, it is clear that the industry is still in its infancy, and the true promise of mobility as a service will become evident when combined with shared autonomous (hopefully electric) vehicles that can expand the potential market beyond urban centers into rural areas.

“We’re like Netflix when it was still sending DVDs to people,” he said.

Additionally, the service will only be as good as the underlying transportation network, and cities where such applications are offered tend to already have many public train and bus lines in place.

Whim is currently available in Helsinki, Vienna, Antwerp, the Birmingham area in the UK and the greater Tokyo area. On June 1, it will be launched in Switzerland, the first time a MaaS service will cover an entire country.

Wondo operates in Madrid with expansion plans in Spain and Portugal, Hietanen said. MaaS Global hopes to use Ferrovial’s existing network to eventually bring its service to the United States and South America, after its plans to open in Miami, Vancouver and Chicago last year were missed.

“Creating the service model is the key to a huge business opportunity,” Hietanen said. “But it is also the key to solving city traffic problems and its environmental impact.”

© 2021 Bloomberg LP



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