The Finnish Last-Mile pilot project for local mobility initiatives has not only promoted mobility start-ups, but has also offered long-term establishment opportunities.
The Finnish Last-Mile pilot project for local mobility initiatives has not only promoted mobility start-ups, but has also offered long-term establishment opportunities.
( Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

Finland The culmination of the Last Mile Project shows the way forward for smart mobility

Author / Editor: Cate Lawrence / Isabell Page

There are considerable challenges in getting new smart mobility initiatives up and running from development to testing and evaluation. Finland recently completed a three year pilot into local mobility initiatives, which included valuable benchmarking of preceding efforts and provided a critical opportunity for mobility startups and innovators.

Late February saw the end of Finland's Last Mile Project, a three-year pilot that aimed to improve the mobility of local residents and travelers with the exploration of sustainable mobility solutions for tourists, residents, and commuters in the Helsinki metropolitan area in collaboration with companies that provide mobility services and companies in the tourism industry.

Benchmarking off mobility solutions

The project began with extensive research conducted by Metropolia University of Applied Sciences into the needs of not only citizens but travelers. This included benchmarking studies on a variety of mobility solutions around the world, resulting in an extensive compendium of case studies implemented or under development in cities and recreational areas similar to the target areas and cities involved in the Last Mile project. These included:

Mobility options relevant to national parks
Mobility innovations around national park visits included free-floating bikes and share kayaks, GPS Navigation when hiking. They noticed here, a clear shift from journey planning” towards “activities planning” in the demand for transportation and mobility services. Instead of typing an “address” in a journey planner, people would like to enter the desired “activity” in a search box.

Mobility relevant to Airports
A number of cities were focused on offers to tourists such as short-time airport and sight tours, either paid or free. Examples included an Airport Bike rental service inside the airport area, a transport app including real-time navigation within an airport, and a free sightseeing tour for transit passengers.

Mobility options that are pertinent to island and coastal areas
Water-based solutions featured heavily in benchmarking research in coastal and island (archipelago) areas such as water taxis. The researchers also found a prioritization of car-sharing and pooling of vehicles, the introduction of water taxis, electric car-sharing. Multi-modal transport also featured heavily with customers benefiting from the ability to use several modes of transport flexibly and more cost-efficiently.

A great opportunity for startups and mobility providers

From 2018 to 2020, twenty company pilots used the region as a testing platform to develop commercially viable, scalable mobility concepts. The pilots offered a valuable opportunity for mobility startups who traditionally may struggle to move beyond proof of concept, especially once you get past a simple app. It can also be a lengthy process to make meaningful connections with city elected officials and those responsible for procurement. The regions of focus:

  • Jätkäsaari in Helsinki (already a smart city mobility testbed for established mobility providers and startups whose pilots were coordinated by the City of Helsinki’s innovation company Forum Virium Helsinki).
  • Aviapolis (the home to Helsinki-Vantaa Airport and is Finland's largest growing job centre with 37,000 jobs)
  • Tourism locations in Vantaa
  • Nuuksio national park
  • Rantaraitti in Espoo

A diverse range of smart transport pilots

An creative and innovative series of pilots was initiated as part of the project, with almost all of the companies still in operation today. The pilots included:

Smart pedestrian crossing

Intelligent sign pilots for pedestrian crossings.
Intelligent sign pilots for pedestrian crossings.
(Source: Bercman Technologies / Mart Suurkask / CC0)

Bercman Technologies created the technology for a smart pedestrian crossing sign pilot. The sign resembles a conventional traffic sign but contains technology that produces data on the amount of traffic, traffic speed, and air quality as well as environmental conditions to support planning. It also facilitates the testing of warning functions designed to prevent collisions in a controlled manner.

City boat service
In Espoo, the project also piloted The Skipperi city boat service was piloted in Espoo and included and motorboats. During the pilot, the service recorded approximately 1,000 trips by rowboat and approximately 730 trips by motorboat from Espoo. The company’s operations expanded from Espoo to Helsinki, and in the future they also aim to expand to other cities in Finland (including Tampere, Turku, Jyväskylä, Lappeenranta and Joensuu) and Sweden (Stockholm).

Shared cargo bike scheme

The bicycles are operated via an app.
The bicycles are operated via an app.
(Source: Nezeco / CC0)

A pilot by Colossus Finland and Nezeco experimented with cargo bike sharing. The bikes are located around Jätkäsaari, and are locked, unlocked and operated via an app with the first hour of riding free.

Electric cargo bikes
Eezery Enterprise aims to reduce vehicle traffic in Jätkäsaari through ecological local logistics. In the pilot, small parcels were delivered using an electric cargo bike, available to both companies and private individuals.

Other initiatives included:

  • Audio-guided routes in multiple languages
  • a platform of short distance journeys from Helsinki-Vantaa Airport waiting for a connecting flight
  • trail-route-planning service connected to public journey planner
  • Surveillance cameras utilizing solar panels to ease parking problems by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
  • Bout- a for-profit peer-to-peer (P2P) platform for on-demand boat rides.
  • A direct water bus connection from Jätkäsaari to tourist attractions and to Pentala Museum island in Espoo
  • A service combining car-sharing service and parking service to ease parking problems in Jätkäsaari
  • Cargo Bikes for residents in Jätkäsaari

Overall the project demonstrates the benefit of both careful research and an extended pilot. Earlier efforts and blueprints of success from other cities were evaluated and provided a basis to consider what kinds of services may be of most interest and benefit to the visitors and citizens of the region. Extensive vendor and government support enabled mobility startups to take their ideas from proof of concept to meaningful, tested solutions, most of which are still active today.