'Netflix of transport' could offer unlimited use of public transport for flat fee

Whim allows commuters to pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited use of a variety of transport modes.

SINGAPORE - Imagine paying a flat fee for unlimited use of any public transport mode, including buses, trains, bicycles and a pre-set amount of taxi rides.

This is what Whim - an app created by Finnish firm Maas Global - hopes to offer to Singapore. Maas Global co-founder Kaj Pyyhtiäby said he aims to bring the service here "late this year (2017) or early next year (2018)", said Kaj Pyyhtiä.

He was speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the Emerging Smart and Clean City Solutions conference, held on Monday (Sept 18) at the Huone Events Hotel at Clarke Quay.

"An easy way to imagine it is as the Netflix or Spotify of transportation," he said, pointing to the subscription-based model offered by the two on-demand entertainment services.

Launched in the Finnish capital of Helsinki in June last year (2016), Whim - which currently has more than 4,000 users - allows commuters to pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited use of a variety of transport modes.

Such a model - dubbed "mobility-as-a-service" - could help influence a "modal shift" in commuter behaviour and could get more people to give up their cars in favour of public transportation, said Mr Pyyhtiä.

"Digital disruption is not just about technology, it's about changing processes and changing behaviour," Finland's Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner, who spoke at the conference, told The Straits Times.

Both Finland and Singapore are looking for solutions that will allow for fewer cars on the road and "smoother door-to-door transportation options", she said.

This is something a mobility-as-a-service platform could facilitate, added Ms Berner, though she noted it would require transport providers to share their data with other firms.

Having raised more than $16 million in funding three months ago (June) - from investors including Toyota and Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance - Maas Global plans to introduce Whim to the British city of Birmingham next month (Oct), and Amsterdam in the Netherlands by the end of the year (2017).

As one of the most developed technology and business hubs in the world, Singapore is a natural choice for the firm's expansion, said Mr Pyyhtiä.

The firm hopes to expand to more than 60 cities within the next five years, and Whim has already attracted interest from transportation authorities worldwide.

Though a similar mobility-as-a-service venture was announced here in January this year (2017) - a collaboration between the Nanyang Technology University, transport operator SMRT and JTC, which is being tested out on the NTU campus and neighbouring CleanTech Park - Mr Pyyhtiä believes there is room for multiple players in the sector.

"Transportation is such a huge playing field. We don't believe in a winner-takes-all model," he said.

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