Rubén M.Cenzano

Chartered Civil Engineer specialised in Transportation

Ingeniero de Caminos especialista en Transporte

lessons to learn from the failure of Helsinki's on-demand bus service

Posted On Tuesday, 15 March 2016




Finland's capital hoped a 'mobility on demand' system that integrated all forms of shared and public transport in a single payment network could essentially render private cars obsolete, however, the last ride was on 31st December 2015.

It was called Kutsuplus (Finnish for "call plus") and the service matched passengers who were headed roughly in the same direction with a minibus driver, allowing them to share a ride that cost more (€5) than a regular city bus (€3) but less than a taxi (€6+).

Operated by the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority, Kutsuplus was a relevant component of Helsinki's intelligent traffic system. The transit authority paid the drivers and operated the buses, which eventually grew to a fleet of 15 as ridership grew steadily.

However, two main reasons made Kutsuplus failing. First was the need for massive scale to make the economics of ride-sharing really work. Second was the significant public cost of doing that.

The transport authority had big expansion plans for Kutsuplus. From the original 15 buses, the fleet was to grow to 45 vehicles in 2016, 100 vehicles in 2017, and later into the thousands. Achieving scale with this model is crucial in order to optimize trips across an entire fleet. With a small number of buses and users, it’s more difficult to match up passengers who are going in the same direction around the same time.

Scale could not come without funding, and although the €3 million it cost to run Kutsuplus was less than 1% of the Transport Authority’s budget, the service was heavily subsidized. The €17 per-trip cost to taxpayers proved controversial. 

Today, the research company behind this experience runs a similar scheme in the USA. 

Ingeniero de Transporte, Ruben M.Cenzano, Transportation Engineer    

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