Helsinki fare hikes do not reduce car emissions 

Public transport in big cities should needs the following characteristics:

  1. Reasonable pricing based on distance travelled.
  2. Network should cover a wide area that gives reasonable access to the majority of residents.
  3. Inclusive of pedestrians, bikes, buses, trams, rail and shared cars, taxis,
  4. Should reduce emissions and travel delays.

The metropolitan area of Helsinki now covers four adjoining big cities, Helsinki, Vantaa and Espoo, where some 1 million people live and work. The area covered by public transport is getting bigger every decade as more affordable homes are built in newly developed suburbs. The Helsinki metro system has been extended to the west for Espoo and a local rail link has extended north to the airport and surrounding suburbs in Vantaa. Local connection buses transport residents to the trains and metro services.

We now have an excellent  public transport infrastructure and network with city bikes, buses, trams and metro networks that has been developed for residents. Moving around the metropolitan area is quite easily and cheap without a car. Public transport is used heavily in the tiny area of central Helsinki – it is around 70%, but once you look at the broader urban area this number falls to around 20% with the rest travelling in cars – the 2 graphs are from the City of Helsinki.

However, the Helsinki council is planning a pricing reform of public transport pricing which can best be described as dumb:

  1. They have decided to increase prices dramatically for occasional users
  2. They continue using a really old-fashioned ticket system of zones. 
  3. Moving between some shorter zones will cost much more even if you just travel one stop from one zone to the next! 
  4. This reform does not seem to reduce car emissions.

Naturally they claim that there is actually a fall in average ticket prices – for this they use some algorithm that probably does not actually test out in reality.

The fist big question is why do we need to have 4 zones? Why cannot there be a simple solution where a single or season ticket is be based on distance travelled from home to work like the system in Singapore that is built on digital solutions that simply require travellers to press their travel card against a reader when they get on and off public transport.

Distance determines the cost like any other form of transport – taxis and normal trains.

But let’s look at the results of this new ticket pricing. If you live in Helsinki and stay almost all the time within its boundaries then you will pay more. If you occasionally use the tram and walk depending on the weather – you pay almost double. If you go west to the next city from Helsinki centre you can travel 5 km whereas going east allows you to travel many more kilometres with a Helsinki zone ticket.

The main motorway used by working folk from the west into Helsinki has seen a 4% fall in traffic since the opening of the new West Metro line. However this is die to far fewer buses because bus lines have now been replaced with the metro! There has been tiny fall in the number of cars coming in and out ion Helsinki, and the same is true for cars coming in from the  North where the airport is located.

The daily incoming traffic is basically one person coming and going to their office, workshop or building site – this ticket price reform does nothing to reduce this traffic which causes huge amounts of pollution from emissions and in winter from ice studded tyres. Just look at the figures for the last years – hardly any drop in car users.

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