Finish ‘father’ of MaaS: ‘no need for car anymore in Antwerp’
Train, bus, tram, taxi, rental and shared cars plus bikes: all available in one single smartphone app. Since the beginning of June a select group of people in Antwerp is testing the Whim app from Finish transport technology company, MaaS Global. “Antwerp will be our international showcase”, CEO Sampo Hietanen says in an interview with Trends magazine.
The 45-year-old Finish engineer, specialized in transport planning, is the ‘father’ of the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) concept. “The idea originated already in 2006, but at that time technology wasn’t ready for it”, Hietanen recalls. He travelled the world with his idea and gave more than 2.000 lectures about it.
45.000 users in Helsinki
Today Sampo Hietanen is CEO of the world’s first ‘MaaS operator’ start-up, based in Helsinki, Finland, with some 40 employees of 16 nationalities, growing to around 100 by the end of the year. In the Finish capital 45.000 of the 600.000 inhabitants are using the young company’s Whim app.
“Five years ago I was thinking that the app wouldn’t be broadly used before 2020 in the city”, Hietanen says. “I’m working all my life in the transport business. I know how difficult it is to get transport providers, each used to their own ‘silo’ to work in, to get moving. But sometimes it goes faster than you expect.”
Simply and easy to sell
The concept is really simple and easy to sell to the consumer, Hietanen explains. “Owning a car in the city isn’t an advantage anymore. People are losing time in traffic jams and are looking for alternatives that can be combined.”
“But nobody wants twenty apps on his smart phone to use these means of transport. One time this can be a taxi ride, another time a shared bike or public transport. And the ones wanting to drive to their summer house on the countryside in the weekend can rent a car.”
49 euro per month
“The large majority of our users pay per ride”, co-founder and Chief Experience Officer, Kaj Pyyhtia, says. “About 5.200 of them have a season ticket and pay a fixed amount per month.”
For 49 euro/month a Whim Urban client has unlimited access to shared bikes and public transport at will (bus, metro, tram, train and ferry). For a taxi ride of less than 5 km an extra of 10 euro per ride is paid. For a rental car 49 euro per day is charged.
Whoever needs a rental car for more than 10 days per month, can opt for the Whim Unlimited package at 499 per month. That’s on average the monthly cost of owning your private car and gives you unlimited access to all means of transport, rental cars and taxi rides upon 5 km included. For extra regional public transport, an extra of 50 euro is charged.
“Even the ones with the Unlimited packages are not choosing for the car exclusively, 26% of their movements are done by public transport, 8% by shared bike”, Pyyhtia says.
People love the idea
“People love the idea that you can plan, book and pay for these means of transport with one single app”, Hietanen adds. “The hard part is to get the service providers, each with their own app and wanting to own the relationship with the customer, to come along. We want to work in an open eco system and can only compete with the car by combining all means of transport.”
MaaS Global earns its money by buying in large volumes of train, taxi, rental car and bike rides with the service providers. “We repackage those rides and put them in one user-friendly app”, Hietanen continues.
High expectations for mobility budget
“That is our added value. Potential is enormous. Today a car makes 85% of people’s mobility budget. They spend an average of 500 euro per month and occasionally another 60 euro for all other means of transport. If you trade in your car, you can spend 500 euro per month at whatever means of transport. If you choose the bike or public transport, we make money. If you go for a taxi or rental car, it’s a little bit less.”
In that way Hietanen has high expectations for the mobility budget the Belgian government is to introduce. “The whole of Europe is looking forward to what is going to happen with that mobility budget in Belgium. Everybody can learn from it. Hopefully there will be a good solution without too much bureaucratic involvement.”
Antwerp international showcase
Belgium and Antwerp are key to the growth plans of MaaS Global. “We want to make Antwerp our international showcase”, Hietanen says. He has a close relationship with the Antwerp Alderman and fellow engineer, Koen Kennis (N-VA), who declared earlier wanting to make MaaS the final piece of his mobility policy.
MaaS Global wants to be active in 150 cities in 60 countries by 2020. First targets are Antwerp and Amsterdam. Later cities like Singapore, Miami and others will follow. The company has calculated it needs 3 to 5% of a one million population of a city to have a Whim season ticket, to be profitable.
Commercial launch in September
In Antwerp some 100 people are testing the technology. Commercial launch is planned for September 2018. Prices and services offered will be similar to Helsinki with public transport, taxi, shared cars and bikes. Bus, tram and metro are the spinal column of the MaaS system for Antwerp.
Flemish bus and tram company, De Lijn, with its digital M-tickets is already on board, with Belgian railways talks are going on. Progress is slow as the public train company has demands that aren’t compatible with an open concept as MaaS, the Finish say. A compromise will be needed as starting without trains in the package would be a missed opportunity.
The operational start of MaaS Global was in 2016. “In October 2016 we had our first paying clients in Helsinki. We needed some time to come to a good design”, Pyyhtia says.
End of 2016 MaaS Global raised 2,5 million euro to go for international growth, in 2017 another 14.2 million euro was raised with shareholders like transport group Transdev, Turkish vehicle builder Karsan and technology company Swiftcom, Finish car importer Veho Oy and new ones like Japanese Toyota Financial Services, automotive supplier Denso and insurer Aioi Nisay Dowa.