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Maas Global: Nordic transport revolutionaries with plans to conquer the world

By Pete Madeley | Transport | Published:

"As far as transport is concerned, the world has got to start thinking in a different way."

The words of Kaj Pyyhtiä, co-founder of Finnish firm Maas (Mobility as a Service) Global, which is due to pilot its revolutionary new travel app Whim in the West Midlands next month.

The multi-million pound scheme enables commuters to use a combination of different types of public transport and taxis for a set price.

It is the brainchild of Mr Pyyhtiä's business partner Sampo Hietanen, and was launched in their home city of Helsinki to wide acclaim in November.

The scheme, which has already amassed more than 20,000 Finnish subscribers, combines reservation and payment services to find the best routes and modes of transport for any journey.

In its mission statement, Maas Global is unequivocal in its drive to 'challenge car ownership'.

”For the same price as you keep an average car parked, unused, you can get the most functional way of moving around every day without the hassles of vehicle ownership," says Mr Hietanen, the firm's CEO.

The duo, who have been friends for more than two decades, developed the concept five years ago.

Mr Pyyhtia describes Whim as a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to change the way people travel. "The time for this to happen is now," he said.

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"The technology, the trends in transport – a move away from a complete reliance on cars, for example, as well as concerns over pollution and the diesel scandal. There is also the fact that people are more comfortable using an app.

"Two years ago this would not have worked. But now everything has come together at the right time for Whim to be a success."

Buoyed by their early success on home soil, the duo are now ready to take on the world. And the first stop is the West Midlands.

Mr Hietanen, a transport planner by trade, says he picked the region due to the 'almost instant' support his plans received from Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) when he first pitched the idea.

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But the firm is acutely aware of the region's reputation as a home for petrolheads, and Mr Pyyhtiä concedes that Whim's success in the West Midlands will largely depend on 'changing the way people view the way they move around'.

"Actually I think a lot of this will be driven by the late millennials, who are not so concerned about car ownership," he said.

"We believe the West Midlands is progressive in its thinking. It has all the right elements in place as far as transport is concerned.

"There are people who we will never get out of the cars, but we will work with whoever we can. We are not afraid of the petrolheads!"

Whim will initially be rolled out to 500 people, before going region-wide in the summer.

Users will be able to choose whether to have an all inclusive monthly contract – which allows travel anywhere around the West Midlands via bus, train, tram, and taxi (within a certain radius) – or a pay-as-you-go option.

‘Boris bikes’ are also set to be included in the package, while hire cars will be available for a set fee.

Prices are due to be announced in the coming days. At 499 euros a month, the all-inclusive package in Helsinki does not come cheap.

"For the same price as you keep an average car parked, unused, you now get the most functional way of moving around every day without the hassles of vehicle ownership," Mr Hietanen explained.

"It is about added value. We are looking for a step-by-step transformation. The early adopters in the West Midlands will get a nicely subsidised package and we will see how it goes from there."

The firm has pumped 14 million euros into the project and is not short on ambition. A target has been set of five per cent of eligible subscribers in the West Midlands using Whim 'within a few years'.

Its business model dictates that Whim is rolled out to as many cities as possible in short order.

Antwerp is likely to pilot the scheme this year, as will Amsterdam, while a raft of other places are at advanced stages of discussion.

"There is a reason we are called MaaS Global," said Mr Hietanen, who has attended 1,500 meetings in a whistle-stop tour of the world in his efforts to drum up interest in Whim.

"What is starting now in Helsinki and the West Midlands can eventually cover the world."

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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