Could Helsinki Be Mostly Car-Free in 10 Years?
The benefit of living in larger cities is often that you can use your car a lot less–but what if you didn’t need a car at all?
Well, Helsinki is trying to make car-free living a reality for all of its residents. The Finnish city recently announced a bold plan to integrate all of its public and shared transportation options in order to offer its residents “mobility on demand.” The idea is that the new system will be so good that residents won’t even need a car anymore, and nor would they want to use one as the system would be so cost effective.
The “mobility on demand” system would essentially combine all forms of transportation — bus, carpool, ferries, bikes, etc. — into a smartphone app that will allow users to plan a route and buy their transportation with just a tap of a finger or a click.
“Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle-hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here,” writes The Guardian.
The City of Helsinki will soon test out the model in the Vallila neighborhood and expand from there. The goal is that by 2025, the program will make using public and shared transportation so easy that few will want to use a car–though it won’t do away with cars entirely as many people in the region have summer homes in the countryside and so will have to retain some transportation for those journeys.
All the same though, it’s not just that the service is a functional, seamless use of alternative forms of transportation that will get people using fewer cars. There’s also a cultural shift afoot when it comes to how people think about owning their own cars that’s making these types of programs more attractive. “A car is no longer a status symbol for young people,” says Sonja Heikkilä, a transportation engineer who was commissioned by the city of Helsinki to research the potentials of the program for her master’s thesis. “This could work, even though older people do not wish to give up their cars. Change comes gradually,” Heikkilä adds.
Obviously certain things will need to be worked out — like what happens when everyone wants a taxi home on New Year’s Eve, and whether the system can remain time efficient during peak hours — but Heikkilä and the city are hopeful.
Certainly, Helsinki isn’t thinking that all of its residents are going to ditch their cars – many depend on them to get out of the city and into the countryside – but when thinking about urban mobility, and making city centers more livable, a program like this could be a game changer not just for Helsinki but, with the right infrastructure in place, the rest of the world too.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock.