These apps try to bankrupt car dealerships

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It can be awkward and time consuming. This is why the Finnish startup MaaS Global decided to combine all these services in a single application called Whim. Available in more than 10 cities across Europe and Asia, users can access taxis, buses, bicycles, electric scooters and rental cars.

“Whim’s only goal is to compete with car ownership,” CEO Sampo Hietanen told CNN Business.

According to the International Energy Agency, transport is responsible for 24% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, most of which come from passenger vehicles. If Whim can persuade users to swap their car keys for a single app that offers multiple transportation options, the environmental impact could be huge, Hietanen says.

He admits it’s no easy task. To be successful, Whim has to be more convenient and less expensive than owning a car. “The car represents freedom of mobility”, explains Hietanen – even if a city dweller hardly uses it, he always keeps it parked outside as “freedom insurance”.

To compete, Whim offers rental cars and taxis, but Hietanen says users tend to opt for public transport or micromobility (light shared vehicles like bicycles or electric scooters).

Users can choose between multiple levels of service, including a pay-as-you-go option and a 30-day subscription, which costs € 62 ($ 73) in Helsinki – where the app is most prevalent – for transport unlimited public and short taxi rides. The ticket also offers car rental starting at € 55 ($ 65) per day.

While Helsinki has well-developed alternatives to driving, this is not the case everywhere. If a city “does not have an extensive public transport system or a lot of rental cars or taxis in place” then it will be difficult to convince people to give up their cars, says Maria Kamargianni, associate professor of Transportation and Energy at University College. London.

She says apps like Whim are the first step in getting people out of car ownership, and adds that the availability of alternative transportation options is likely to improve as the market matures. Research firm MarketsandMarkets predicts that the global market for mobility services will grow from $ 4.7 billion in 2020 to $ 70.4 billion by 2030.

MaaS movement

Other providers include Citymapper, which launched a travel pass for Londoners in 2019, and Moovit, which launched an all-in-one mobility app in Israel last year.
Whim, launched in 2016, is a leading vendor and has raised over $ 60 million from investors such as PA (PA), Mitsubishi (MBFJF) and Toyota Financial Services. It is available in several European cities and Tokyo, and has racked up 18 million trips worldwide since its launch.

But the company has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, says Hietanen; with fewer people traveling, incomes are lower, which delays the expansion of the business to other cities.

According to Whim, public transportation and micromobility are the most popular ways to travel with the app.
Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat recently reported that the company spent 50 million euros ($ 59 million) on failed expansion projects. Hietanen says that the money has been spent on integrating multiple transportation providers, establishing market readiness in multiple countries, and developing the complex technology behind the application.

“We knew from the start that the investment needed to create this would be substantial,” he said, adding that the company had recently secured new investments.

Greener travel

Although the industry is in its infancy, Hietanen is confident the demand will be there. A recent report from the International Transport Forum (ITF) indicates that mobility services will be essential to meet the needs of a growing global population and rapid urbanization. But for growth to happen, “people have to choose it over other travel options” such as private motor vehicles.

This is already happening, says Hietanen. According to a company survey in Helsinki, 12% of its users said Whim made them give up their cars. “People want the most durable solution,” he says, “but they still want the freedom to be able to go anywhere, anytime.”


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