Nordic conference explores future public transport and shared mobility

On 4-5 June 2024, the first-ever EIT Urban Mobility North Summit took place in Helsinki and Espoo, Finland, with over 75 participants from across the Nordic and Baltic region meeting to discuss the future of public transport and shared mobility in our cities.

“The math is simple,” said Milos Mladenovic, Associate Professor at Aalto University, a partner of EIT Urban Mobility, in his sweeping opening keynote: the future sustainable mobility system of our cities cannot rely on the internal combustion engine or on private car trips. Instead, we need a mix of policy, infrastructure and technology to 1) avoid or reduce the need for travel, 2) shift to more energy-efficient modes of transport and 3) improve the efficiency of motorised vehicles, both private and shared.

To solve this complex challenge, public transport authorities (PTAs) – which made up a fifth of the participants at the North Summit – have a key role to play.

Norwegian public transport authorities lead the way

In Norway, Ruter, the PTA of Oslo and Akerhus, has a radically innovative plan: to integrate traditional public transport with a fleet of 30,000 autonomous shared cars – like Waymo in the United States, but where people ride together – to replace the region’s 600,000 private cars today.

“Freedom of movement is the car. But it’s not sustainable. At Ruter, we want to create sustainable freedom of movement,” said Claes Kanold, Leader of Radical Innovations at Ruter, arguing that the private electric (and soon autonomous) car is so attractive that public transport must reinvent itself to stay competitive and attractive.

Also in Norway, Kolumbus, the PTA of Rogaland, is working on perfecting their large autonomous bus, which currently runs without passengers on a route through Stavanger’s city centre. But Kolumbus also recently launched a new app that is all about improving the user experience and giving travellers full control over their journey.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if you could use your public transport app to go from A to B? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could use your app to stop the bus? If the app told you what bus you’re on? If you didn’t need to think about buying a ticket?”, asked Siri von Krogh, Head of Digital Product Development at Kolumbus, while presenting the user-friendly features of the brand-new app.

Presentation of Kolumbus' app

No climate-neutral cities without good public transport

In Finland, Helsinki has set ambitious climate targets that will to a large extent depend on the city’s ability to transform and decarbonise its mobility and transport system.

In 2022, transport made up 22% of Helsinki’s carbon emissions. But in 2030, when emissions from heating and electricity will have been reduced, transport will still be responsible for a whopping 62% of all remaining emissions, said Leena-Maija Kimari and Niko Setälä, Project Managers at City of Helsinki. These figures explain why Helsinki’s ambitious action plan for sustainable mobility includes not only a pedestrian strategy, a bicycle action plan and many street traffic-calming measures, but also significant investments in public transport such as brand-new light rail lines and high-quality transit hubs.

Mari Flink, Director of Markets at HSL, the Helsinki region’s PTA, emphasised that “customer-centricity” is key to developing Helsinki’s public transport and meeting HSL’s ambitious post-pandemic growth targets. By analysing mobility patterns and collecting personal data through their app, HSL uses highly developed customer segmentation to personalise their offering and provide tailored services to travellers.

But discussions at the North Summit made it clear that the future of urban mobility will also require innovative mobility companies that can complement traditional public transport.

Presentation of Donkey Republic

Integrating public transport and shared mobility

Alexander Høst Frederiksen, Co-founder and Vice President of Commercial Market Development at Donkey Republic, argued that bike-sharing services should be integrated with public transport systems. Shared-bikes not only increase 25-fold the catchment area of transit points like train stations and bus stops, but also help reduce peak-hour pressure, give travellers more flexibility in off-peak hours and make very efficient use of public space.

In a similar vein, Kasper Dam Mikkelsen, Co-founder and Chief Sales Officer of Nabogo, explained what role carpooling can play for people’s mobility, especially in peri-urban and rural areas, by expanding the range of public transport and helping make more efficient use of private cars, which too often transport only one person around.

Complementing public transport with shared mobility was also one of the key recommendations from the European Commission’s Expert Group on Urban Mobility, presented by Thomas Geier, Policy Advisor at the European Metropolitan Transport Authorities (EMTA), alongside prioritising public transport as the backbone of urban mobility, addressing sector challenges such as worker shortages and ensuring sustainable funding instruments.

Participants at the inaugural EIT Urban Mobility North Summit – which was co-hosted with City of Helsinki, Forum Virium Helsinki and Aalto University – also heard from Bout, Asistobe, TIER-Dott, VR Group and Västtrafik and engaged in a workshop about the key phenomena, potential impacts and must-win battles for the future of public transport and shared mobility.

People discussing content about the future of public transport and shared mobility.

Did you miss the EIT Urban Mobility North Summit 2024? Then make sure to join us next year.