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Travelling on a Whim – West Midlands to pioneer new smartphone transport system

Travelling on a Whim – West Midlands to pioneer new smartphone transport system

🕔16.Dec 2016

It’s our Christmas West Midlands transport wishes answered (sort of), with a headline fit for media pun fans like us.

The West Midlands is to trial a new integrated transport system that allows people to combine all their travel needs via their smartphone.

The region will be the UK testing ground for Whim, an app which has been developed in Finland with a view to being rolled out worldwide.

The Midlands will be the first area outside Finland to trial the system and volunteers are now being sought to take part when it begins in spring 2017.

The scheme is a collaboration between Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), MaaS Global of Helsinki, and transport providers.

The concept behind Whim is called Mobility as a Service (MaaS), which aims to encourage people to use transport other than the private car by giving them a travel plan tailored to their individual needs.

Users pay for what transport they think they will require – ranging from car hire to taxis, bus, tram and train travel – over the course of a month or on a pay-as-you-go basis.

The Whim app will also establish the best journey routes and deal with tickets and payments.

It is unclear, at the time of writing, as to how TfWM envisages Whim working alongside the current West Midlands Swift card.

Cllr Roger Lawrence, lead member for transport for the WMCA, said:

This is a great idea to encourage people to consider how they get about other than with the private car.

Mobility as a Service can transform how people get about this region and by doing so help free up our roads and tackle the scourge of congestion which costs this region billions of pounds a year.

The pilot will initially run for 12 months involving up to 500 customers based in the West Midlands.

It will be delivered by Maas Global and has seen transport operators including National Express West Midlands, rail information company SilverRail and car hire firm Enterprise sign up to the scheme.

Transport Systems Catapult, part of Britain’s innovation agency Innovate UK, has also been involved in setting up the pilot, providing strategic advice and guidance to the partners.

MaaS Global launched Whim in Finland in autumn this year and Kaj Pyyhtiä, co-founder and chief executive of MaaS Global, said the West Midlands was an exciting place for the UK pilot.

This region is a huge conurbation and will be a real test of how Whim can get people from A to B.

It is transforming how people get around in Helsinki, where we now have people on a waiting list to join, and in TfWM, Transport Systems Catapult and the providers who have already signed up, we could not have found better partners to try to do the same in Britain.

Cllr Lawrence added:

Congestion is a major problem in the West Midlands yet car use on overcrowded roads continues to be the automatic setting for many people when it comes to getting about.

If you only occasionally need to use a car why go to the expense of owning one? Why not just hire one as and when you need it?

With Whim we can get people who live in the urban environment to look at how they get out and about and give them a package addressing all their requirements, whether it’s on public transport or with a car.

Perhaps, then, it’s one of the answers our mayoral candidates need as they debate the region’s transport woes.

More details here on how to apply to take part in the Whim pilot.

In other transport news Sir David Higgins, the executive chairman of HS2, is to become chairman of Gatwick Airport as well. HS2 is already has a depleted top table, after chief executive Simon Kirby left to join Rolls Royce. Roy Hill is the interim chief executive with a replacement in post by the middle of next year. HS2 say Sir David will remain with the railway body “for at least another year”.

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