What if the next industry that will be massively disrupted and redefined is transportation? And how about if more and more people were to soon have access to a new kind of mobility service, one that would allow them the same freedom of movement as having their own car?
This is the disruption envisioned by MaaS Global, a Helsinki-based company that is building a wholly new model for personal transportation. Just as Spotify and Netflix subscriptions have replaced buying CDs and DVDs for many, the company’s vision is a future where a subscription to their transportation service will take care of all their clients’ travel needs.
MaaS Global’s smartphone app Whim, launched in Helsinki last summer, aims to be a major step in that direction. Whim lets its users choose a monthly package, options ranging from a no-monthly-fee, pay-per-ride option to a business plan with unlimited taxis, public transport and even the possibility of car lease in the Helsinki area. Routes, fees, tickets, timetables – everything related to the journey is included in the app. The goal is for users to be able to travel as effortlessly and spontaneously – on a whim – as if they had their own car.
In its recently completed funding round, MaaS Global raised 14.2 million euros from major industry players such as Toyota, Denso and Transdev. This will allow the company to expand from Helsinki and take the service to new locations abroad.
Whim is already gaining traction, but to understand the true potential of the service, and to appreciate the full ambition of MaaS Global, you have to go deeper and consider the model that underlies the app. The company calls it “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS), and it is convinced that it will fundamentally change the way we get around.
MaaS makes you move
Sampo Hietanen, CEO of MaaS Global and a long-time champion of “Mobility as a Service”, compares the concept of MaaS to mobile operators: just as you buy a subscription from an operator to access their mobile telephone network, you can buy a travel package from a MaaS operator to access transportation providers’ services.
What permits this is an ecosystem of transport industry players who offer their solutions through a shared platform. Built on open application programming interfaces (APIs), this ecosystem will connect the different companies in the industry, allowing the users of a MaaS-based app such as Whim to access the services of participating transportation providers.
This may sound complicated, but how it works in practice is straightforward: all the client needs to do is specify where they want to go, and the app checks what travel options are available and proposes the most convenient ones. And for a monthly fee, the client can use the various modes of transportation included in the app.
As the ecosystem grows and more companies join, the service will be able to take care of most if not all of its users’ transportation needs, ranging from the daily commute to weekend getaways.
If this sounds fanciful, Hietanen would counter by pointing out that many research centres expect the MaaS industry to skyrocket and be worth up to a trillion euros by 2030. Moreover, MaaS Global has seen intense interest in the concept from the international press: the Economist, USA Today, the Guardian and Wired have written about the company, hailing its service a promising form of future transit.
Round round get around
It might be slightly surprising that a major transport industry disruption is being constructed in Finland, when the best-known players – companies such as Google (self-driving cars), Tesla (electric cars) and Uber (ride-sharing) – tend to be based in the US. But Hietanen says that Helsinki has been a great home base for the company.
“Finnish technical expertise has a good reputation abroad, and Finnish companies are generally seen as reliable,” he says. “And it may be surprising, coming from a start-up CEO, but Finland is also a great place in terms of regulations: politicians and government officials have been very supportive.”
But going abroad is unavoidable when aiming to establish yourself as a major transport player on a global scale. “For us, Helsinki is really a test laboratory. We have to expand, and fast, to prove ourselves.” The company will therefore take Whim to 10 new locations around the world, with the service opening in Birmingham, Antwerp and Amsterdam first.
If things take off the way the company hopes, the service will even have noticeable effects on the cityscape. “I expect that in five years, this form of travel has become much more common, and more people will opt out of owning a car,” Hietanen says. “There will be less space needed for parking and more space available for living in the cities.”
We are of course only at the infancy of the new industry. But if MaaS continues to grow, services based on it have huge potential, given the gigantic size of the mobility market. MaaS Global’s ambitious goal is to establish itself as a major player in the growing sector, Hietanen says. “The road may be long, but the industry is on track to become massive, and someone will end up benefitting greatly. I don’t see why it couldn’t be us.”