SINGAPORE: The Finnish capital of Helsinki was once a leader of public-sector innovation in transport, rolling out a service called Kutsuplus in 2013 – which allowed users to book minibus rides via their smartphones.
That early foray into ride-pooling ground to a halt at end-2015, after the project proved too costly to maintain. And it could offer useful learning points as Singapore trials initiatives such as GovTech’s collaboration with Grab for GrabShuttle, and as it explores the idea of on-demand public bus services.
Finland’s Minister for Transport and Communications Anne Berner now says it should be private-sector organisations that provide the services to disrupt the transportation industry, and not the government.
During an interview with Channel NewsAsia on the sidelines of Singapore International Cybersecurity Week on Monday (Sep 18), Ms Berner said the role of government is to provide the legislative environment for there to be level playing field so that these companies can compete and offer services that meet the needs of commuters. She added that in her opinion, authority-driven systems tend not to move fast enough to adapt to users’ needs.
“Today, almost none of the consumers influence transport services; they just take (what is provided),” the minister said. With smart legislation, we can change this so that “consumers create the market” for innovative services, she said.
Ms Berner, citing Finland as an example, said there have been efforts from the government to deregulate services in the transport sector, such that rather than regulating parcel delivery or postal services or ride hailing separately, there can be a single law that is technology- and platform-neutral.
The country’s Act on Transport Services, which will mostly come into force on Jul 1, 2018, is one example of this, the minister said. It will remove stipulations on whether a car is allowed to deliver parcels, mail, groceries and people, so any one can choose to offer the service they want with the resources they have, she explained.
For this to happen, the country’s postal and transport laws had to be changed, Ms Berner said.
This initiative was something that was discussed with Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan during her visit here, she added.
Last month, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it was monitoring recent trends to see if current regulations which disallow taxi and private hire car drivers from making deliveries without a passenger on board, need to be reviewed. Under current regulations, taxis and private hire cars are public service vehicles licensed to carry passengers for hire and reward, LTA had said.
BUILDING TRUST CRITICAL
Helsinki has laid out ambitious plans to eliminate the need for private car ownership by 2025. But Finland, like Singapore, is exploring the use of autonomous cars, Ms Berner said.
Before this can be a reality though, there are certain issues that need to be resolved such as the secure transmission of sensitive data needed by driverless cars to operate on the roads, and in determining what infrastructure is needed to enable this, she noted.
Asked how far along Finland’s experience with having driverless cars on its road is, she said "not yet". She added that “maybe (by) 2025” will the country be able to make it reality.
She also said trust is key for necessary for citizens to embrace such innovations such as autonomous vehicles.
“Today, we trust the transfer of money between banks, even across countries,” Ms Berner said. “So how do we establish the same trust in the transmission of data (for transport)?”
The system for transmission of that data also needs to have the same maturity, safety and comfort as that of international money transfers, she said.
“Data will become a currency. It already is,” she said.