Imagine for a moment that you can jump in an Uber to your nearest tube station, take the trains to your location, and hop on a Boris bike to get to your destination and use only one system to pay for it all...
Enter the Finnish tech start-up, MaaS Global and their innovative (and exciting) app,Whim. This app integrates the mix of public and private transport options into a universal pay-as-you-go package that any city-dweller or visitor can purchase.
This Economist article touches on something that comes up frequently with colleagues: the challenges cities face when confronting traffic, public transport routes, and resolving the 'first mile-last mile' issue. Many of our discussions inevitably lead to the point that ride-sharing apps, such as Uber or Lyft, could help alleviate traffic congestion by sharing their data with public authorities and public transportation agencies.
Uber, for example, collects reams of valuable data on traffic patterns when drivers are both busy and idle. This private sector data ought to be shared with public transport agencies, such as Transport for London, so that busses, the Overground, and Underground networks could adapt in real time to areas of traffic congestion and peak/off-peak demand. This would also allow Uber to integrate their service into the transportation network. And ultimately, it could give the public more choice and better access to transport when and where they need it.
I have a lot of hope for opportunities offered in Whim and, personally, am excited to try it out if it comes to London. But It will depend on getting the likes of Uber and the taxi cabs on board - something that I suspect they may be hesitant to do.
truly turning transport into a service, as Helsinki is aiming to do, is a Herculean task. It not only means integrating the booking, payment and operating systems of dozens of transport providers. It also means persuading private firms to take part in the first place. Public-transport operators can be forced to do so by national or municipal authorities. But private operators may balk at sharing data and real-time information on customers with a third party, even if they are promised confidentiality.