Helsinki has an audacious goal: By 2025, it plans to eliminate the need for any city resident to own a private car. The idea is to combine public and private transport providers so citizens can assemble the fastest or cheapest mode of travel. “The city’s role is to enable that market to emerge,” explains Sonja Heikkilä, a transportation engineer with the Helsinki government.
Bus routes would be dynamic, changing based on demand at any given moment. From planning to payment, every element of the system would be accessible through mobile devices. Citizens could use their phones to arrange a rideshare, an on-demand bus, an automated car, special transport for children, or traditional public transit. They could purchase “mobility packages” from private operators that would give them a host of options depending on weather, time of day, and demand.
The idea is to take a quintessentially physical transportation system designed around vehicles, roads, bridges, subways, and buses, and reverse it to revolve around digitally enabled individual mobility—moving each traveler from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. Helsinki’s ambitious vision reflects a much larger phenomenon: an exciting new era of smart mobility driven by groundbreaking technological innovation. Commuters no longer need to own a car to have one at their disposal. They don’t have to prearrange carpools to share a ride. They don’t have to wait for a ride home when rain is pouring down and there’s not an empty cab in sight. Automakers, meanwhile, are developing next-generation connected and autonomous vehicles that will improve traffic flows and safety. Yet they are no longer simply manufacturers of products—they are also investing in a wide swath of new mobility services: everything from carsharing and rental services to multimodal trip-planning apps.
In today’s digital age, transportation is becoming as much about bits and bytes as it is about roads and bridges. Sensor-powered dynamic pricing, social transport apps, mobile-enabled collaborative transport models such as ridesharing and carsharing— all can help tackle traffic congestion in major urban corridors.
Driverless buses and connected cars, meanwhile, are becoming viable transport options. Google’s driverless cars have already driven more than 1 million miles in autonomous mode, and the company is running pilot and testing programs with small fleets of fully autonomous vehicles in Mountain View, CA, and Austin, TX.
All of this change presents both opportunities and challenges for transportation departments that maintain physical infrastructure. Many agencies excel at this task. But in the new world of smart transport, with its emphasis on individual behavior, flexibility, and digital apps from multiple sources, they may be called on to play a much different and much broader role.
Urban planners are trying to understand how today’s digitally enabled mobility ecosystem can help advance public policy goals such as reducing congestion. These policies also could yield related benefits such as fewer traffic accidents, better air quality, and a smaller urban footprint for parking. Yet today these benefits go largely unrealized because innovative transportation business models tend to operate in silos.
What’s needed is an entity that can integrate all these different transportation players and innovations. Government transportation agencies are the logical organizations to take on this challenge. In such integrator roles, they could explore partnerships that extend the reach of ridesharing companies to further the policy goals of increasing carpooling and reducing congestion. Or they could encourage carsharing as part of a long-term strategy to build greater public awareness of multimodal options. They could even try to get more people to ride bikes or support research and testing of autonomous vehicles through public-private partnerships such as Mcity in Ann Arbor, MI, which provides a platform to enable automated vehicle (and feature) testing.
Transportation is by no means the only public sector area that could benefit from governments functioning more as integrators of innovative, digitally enabled models and services and less as direct suppliers. In an age of exponential change, this integrator role enables agencies to tap into the latest and greatest digital innovations. That’s a much better way for government to serve citizens than for it to be perpetually behind the curve, trying to replicate those innovations in-house.
William D. Eggers is responsible for research and thought leadership for Deloitte’s public sector practice. He is the author of nine books. This excerpt is adapted from his newest book Delivering on Digital: The Innovators and Technologies That Are Transforming Government and is printed with permission from RosettaBooks.
Have something to say about this article? You can email us and let us know. If it’s interesting and thoughtful, we may publish your response.