Earlier this year I wrote about an IBM project that was using mobile phone data to try and improve the efficiency of bus transportation. It used mobile phones as sensors to suggest improvements to bus routes according to the path of least congestion.
In Finland though, they want to go a step further. At the heart is a comparison between buses and taxis. A bus usually has a clearly defined route, that is often chosen based upon what the bus company believe are the journeys passengers wish to make. Passengers then take it or leave it, with customer satisfaction largely secondary to the punctuality of the driver. It has zero flexibility and little opportunity to adapt to rapid changes in customer demand.
Taxi drivers by contrast are the polar opposite. They don’t have any prescribed plan in place. There is no real central planning involved in the taxi system. There are some informal rules that cabbies tend to abide by but apart from that they typically go where the custom is and take a customer centric approach to the journey by attempting to get them from A to B in the shortest time possible. Their use of The Knowledge means routes are adaptable based upon their knowledge of the conditions at that time and the feedback they’re receiving from the market.
The latter is the model being adopted by Kutsuplus in Helsinki. Kutsuplus is the Finnish capitals mass transit hybrid system, and it has innovated by letting riders both choose their own routes AND summon their own buses.
Here’s how it works. You access the official Kutsuplus app on your phone, from which you can summon a Kutsuplus bus to your stop (within a 10 minute lead time). The bus that arrives will seat at least nine people and comes with space for baby carriages and bicycles.
It’s perfectly possible to call your very own Kutsuplus, but obviously if you share the ride, you share the costs, which typically work out as a pound or so more than the old bus system, but around half the price of a taxi. You then pick the stop you wish to get off at (also using the app), and away you go.
A fascinating part of the service is that the scheduling is entirely automated. If you’re sharing the ride with others, an algorithm determines the most direct route, with each passenger only charged as they would be for a solo ride. You can either pay via your Kutsuplus wallet on the app, or via your mobile bill.
This hybrid bus-taxi service isn’t massively innovative, but in a sector where innovation has typically occurred at glacial pace it is something very nice to see. The service is more convenient than your bog standard bus, whilst being cheaper than a taxi. With more and more people using peer to peer services to share cars and commutes, this seems a natural extension.