HELSINKI — Country of UK in China are rolling out extraordinary plans to phase out fossil fuel-intensive automobiles. But a Nordic capital mixes technology and urban planning to ensure citizens don’t need a car at all.
Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is growing rapidly as it attracts labor from the countryside and from abroad. Instead of building more freeways to accommodate growth, however, authorities are trying to make public transit so good that people simply give up driving.
“Our goal is to use more positive measures to mix walking, cycling and public transport to make it more attractive for people to travel this way,” said Anni Sinnemäki, deputy mayor for transport. “We have parking restrictions in the city center and are not widening the roads for cars. But these are positive measures to attract people to public transport.
Johanna Koskinen, 24, a student who lives in the suburb of Vuosaari, likes the idea if it means extending metro hours.
“Cars are expensive in Finland anyway. A lot of people here can’t really afford to run one,” Koskinen said. “The metro already makes Vuosaari quite accessible, but right now it closes at 11:30 p.m. If we want to reduce car use in the city center even further, they have to make sure people like us don’t lose out. .”
Helsinki already has a high number of public transport users. But Sinnemäki and others believe the city can further reduce traffic that produces carbon emissions and harms quality of life.
“We want to advance our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050,” said Sinnemäki, whose Green Party made big gains in the municipal elections in April after promising major changes to public transit. “It means having an ambitious transport policy, energy efficiency, renewable energies and improving the social environment of the city where people can meet and socialize at the same time.”
The municipal authorities had no specific objective, except to considerably reduce car traffic.
“We want a situation where no one in Helsinki needs to have a car,” she added. “There are people, families with kids who play hockey, for example, who might need it sometimes. But I’m sure it will drop well below 21% as the city center expands.
Statistics published by the city government show that around 7,000 new people have moved to Helsinki each year in recent years. There are now about 630,000 inhabitants. By 2024, that number could reach 850,000, according to forecasts.
City leaders want residents to be able to travel anywhere in the metropolitan area with a single fare that would include subway rides, light rail rides, a bike-sharing system and even per-minute electric car rentals. Housing has been zoned around tram and metro lines to attract riders. New corridors have been opened only to bicycles and trams.
In the fall of 2016, Helsinki residents got a glimpse of the future when authorities tested the robottibussi – Finnish for robot bus – at the city’s port. Smaller than conventional buses, these automated, driverless vehicles can be linked to a smartphone app and programmed to cover bespoke routes, picking up people from instantly booked pick-up points and dropping them off at transit hubs.
The buses are due to be introduced for larger-scale trial services in Helsinki later in the fall of this year, so researchers can see how well they perform in denser city center conditions.
Some residents were not so quick to embrace the plan.
Despite their enthusiasm for public transport, Finns are keen on their cars, with nearly one vehicle per capita in the sprawling country of 5.4 million people, according to the Finnish Transport Agency, a figure well above above neighboring Sweden and Denmark which has been rising steadily since the 1960s. The cars are especially popular in winter, when temperatures can drop to 4 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
Tuomas Kiuri, 28, is a transportation consultant who lives downtown and currently owns a car.
“I’d like to believe it’s possible, but it’s a political thing,” he said. “It requires a paradigm shift. If I’m going somewhere further from the city center, where public transit isn’t efficient, or I have a lot of stuff to carry, then a car is better.
But Kiuri thought self-driving buses could replace cars for some routes.
“It’s hard to estimate exactly when that will happen. But vehicles are going to be autonomous in the future, and buses are the best way to implement that,” he said. less than cars.
To make the plan work, the city relies on continued developments in smart mobility technology.
Big data and smartphones allow authorities to better map travel needs and respond to individual journeys. The city has also deregulated its monopoly on taxis and is also looking to integrate them into its smart ticketing system. By introducing taxis into transit fare structures, citizens could book and pay for taxis using their smartphones and subway passes, even when traveling with commercial companies like Uber and Lyft. .
However, smart technology is no substitute for investing in infrastructure, Sinnemäki noted. She is now pushing her colleagues on the city council to commit more funds to the project.
“In a dense urban environment, to use these technologies, we still need to invest in rails,” she said. “There are people who said it’s no use because we’re all going to have driverless cars. But we just don’t have enough space on the street.
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost’s PRI.org. Its content was created separately from USA TODAY.