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A clear strategy for the development of public transport in Helsinki

Posted: 30 June 2010 | Matti Lahdenranta, Managing Director, Helsinki City Transport (HKL) | No comments yet

The Helsinki region ranks high in international benchmarking on public transport. It is well-known that an efficient public transport system is a major success factor in large urban regions. People need to get to work, have meetings to attend, go shopping and visit people. Also, corporate and retail transport should flow smoothly, without any unnecessary delays. In order to maintain a good situation in Helsinki, the organising authority and tram and metro service provider – Helsinki City Transport (HKL) – created, in 2004, a public transport vision for 2012 and strategic actions to achieve the goals for 2005-2012. The question is; how has HKL succeeded to make its vision come true?

The Helsinki region ranks high in international benchmarking on public transport. It is well-known that an efficient public transport system is a major success factor in large urban regions. People need to get to work, have meetings to attend, go shopping and visit people. Also, corporate and retail transport should flow smoothly, without any unnecessary delays. In order to maintain a good situation in Helsinki, the organising authority and tram and metro service provider – Helsinki City Transport (HKL) – created, in 2004, a public transport vision for 2012 and strategic actions to achieve the goals for 2005-2012. The question is; how has HKL succeeded to make its vision come true?

The Helsinki region ranks high in international benchmarking on public transport. It is well-known that an efficient public transport system is a major success factor in large urban regions. People need to get to work, have meetings to attend, go shopping and visit people. Also, corporate and retail transport should flow smoothly, without any unnecessary delays. In order to maintain a good situation in Helsinki, the organising authority and tram and metro service provider – Helsinki City Transport (HKL) – created, in 2004, a public transport vision for 2012 and strategic actions to achieve the goals for 2005-2012. The question is; how has HKL succeeded to make its vision come true?

Helsinki is known for its excellent public transport system. In various surveys and studies, Helsinki has achieved a position as one of the best public transport cities in Europe. In one of the latest studies, conducted by the Automobile Associations of Europe, Helsinki ranked second place after Munich out of 23 European cities (see Figure 1 on page 12). The study showed that Helsinki holds a strong position among the top ten in all areas of public transport service, (travel time, information, fares and fare system, transfers) while, for example, the winner, Munich, reached a very good position in travel time, information and transfers but fell to 19th place in fares and fare system.

On 1 January 2010, the Helsinki region renewed the organisation of public transport. Up to 2009, there were two organisations – one for Helsinki (Helsinki City Transport) and one for regional services as well as local services in the three neighbouring cities surrounding Helsinki (Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council). After three years of negotiations between municipalities, a totally new organisation, Helsinki Region Transport Authority, started its function on 1 January 2010. The new organisation is responsible for planning of public transport, buying the services (buses, trams, metro, commuter trains, and waterborne transport), marketing, information, setting the fares and ticket inspections. At the same time, Helsinki City Transport was transformed into an operator and the Metropolitan Area Council was closed down.

In Intelligent Transport Issue 4 2004, I wrote that Helsinki City Transport had set a vision for 2012. How did it succeed in its efforts? What are the aims for the new organisation? This article is explaining a general view about all these issues.

The strategy set out HKL’s vision of the future for 2012 and the strategic actions for 2005-2012. Whilst the vision expressed HKL’s strategic intent, the strategic actions identified those areas HKL needed to focus on to achieve the goals enshrined in the vision.

Drafted in 2003-04 by senior HKL officials, personnel representatives, the City Transport Committee and an outside consultant, the City Transport Committee adopted the strategy in 2004. Since then, the strategies were translated into projects that have been scheduled and provided with leaders. Project progress was tracked regularly.

The essential feature of the strategy process was that the highest decision-making body in Helsinki, the City Council made, based on the strategy, a decision of two major goals, the share of public transport and speeding up buses and trams on the street network. This decision set very challenging goals for Helsinki City Transport but at the same time the decision guaranteed fiscal resources for various development schemes for public transport.

The mission statement was formulated as follows:

“HKL provides citizens with equal possibilities to move around and creates a base for a vital city.”

The mission stated the two essential reasons for HKL’s existence. The first part of the mission, “to provide citizens with equal possibilities” means that HKL ensures convenient public transport services throughout Helsinki and makes it possible to live in and get around the city even without a car. The second part of the mission statement means that an efficient public transport system is a major criterion to ensure that the city functions and that people and businesses alike consider Helsinki a good place to live and work.

The core of the strategy was to ensure that Helsinki and the Helsinki Region remain a dynamic public transport area. The strategy was built around seven inter-related visions of the future, the most important of which were the Customer Vision and Transport Vision. Further visions were set for authority functions, producer functions, personnel, sustainable development and economy. The strategic actions employed to put each vision into practice were defined in conjunction with each vision.

The essential thought behind the strategy was to describe the future vision and the strategic actions in a concrete way. The idea was that by writing down in simple terms the vision and strategic actions it is easier to accelerate the development when all the employees understand the direction where the organisation wants to go. A concrete strategy paper is also very easy to communicate to decision-makers, citizens and the media.

Some examples of the goals set in 2004 and the current status in 2010 show the success of the strategy:

1. Goal for 2012
During rush hours, 73% of trips crossing the boundary of Helsinki City Centre will be made using public transport (2004: 70%). Public transport’s share of transverse (east-west) traffic will have increased from the current (2004) 13% to 17%. Speed levels will have risen by 4% in tram traffic and 6% in bus traffic from the levels of 2004. (Goals decided by the City Council)

1. Status in 2010
The share of public transport on the boundary of the City Centre was 72.0% in the autumn of 2009. Public transport’s share of transverse (east-west) traffic was 15% in the autumn of 2009. Although great efforts in traffic light priorities were performed, the speed levels remain on the same level as in 2004.

2. Goal for 2012
Helsinki will rank among the top public transport cities in Europe.

2. Status in 2010
Helsinki ranks among the top public transport cities in Europe.

3. Goal for 2012
Customer information and feedback systems will have been brought to a new level. A real-time information system will have been introduced in the Metro, in trams and on the major bus routes in the City Centre and on routes running east-west across the main radial routes. Real-time information will be available at terminals and stations, the busiest bus stops, on the internet and over the mobile phone or other personal terminal. Information on irregularities will be easily accessible throughout the journey.

3. Status in 2010
Real-time information on the internet and on mobile phones is available in the Metro and all tram routes. Also, all the major bus routes are within the real-time information system. All the central tram and bus stops are equipped with real-time information signs. By the end of 2010, it is expected that more than 1,000 tram and bus stops will be equipped with a battery-operated real-time information sign. Disturbance information on the internet and on mobile phones covers all modes of public transport.

4. Goal for 2012
The metro will have been automated and the introduction of the new western extension will be under preparation.

4. Status in 2010
Automation of the metro is in progress (finalised in 2014) and the western extension of the metro is under construction (open for service in 2015).

5. Goal for 2012
The importance of tram services will have grown in the city; a new route (number 9) will be in operation and the tram network will have been extended to a new residential area in the southern part of the city.

5. Status in 2010
The importance of tram services has grown in the city; route 9 was opened in 2008 and the tram network to a new residential area in the southern part of the city is under construction – service will be started gradually in 2011-2013.

In addition to the goals mentioned here, there were plenty of other goals which will be reached by 2012. Of course, there were also goals which will not be reached.

Perhaps the most important result of the strategy can be shown in investments in public transport. In Intelligent Transport Issue 4 2004, I wrote:

“No strategy can be implemented without adequate financing. In addition to money spent on rolling stock, implementation of this strategy will require investment totalling some €280 million, an average of €35 million a year, in infrastructure and systems over the period 2005-2012. This includes exceptionally large investments such as modernising and automating the Metro access control system as well as Helsinki’s share of the cost of building the western Metro line. The financing framework is realistic, because the corresponding level of investment over the preceding eight-year period 1996-2003 was €200 million or an average of €25 million per year.”

After 2004, there has been a tremendous change for public transport investments. Certainly the discussion of climate change has encouraged the decision-makers to fight against the climate change by investing in public transport but at least a part of the increase in investments can be seen as a result of the accepted public transport strategy. This year, Helsinki is investing €139 million in public transport and according to the investment plan, the investment level will be kept on the same level during the next five years.

By 2015, Helsinki and the Helsinki region will build 16km of tramways, build 14km of metro, automate the present metro, buy new trams (€100 million) and new metro trains (€100 million). At the same time, in spite of increasing car traffic, Helsinki will keep its transport network flowing.

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Figure 1 European Automobile Associations: Study of the service level of public transport in 23 European cities

About the author

Matti Lahdenranta
M.Sc. Matti Lahdenranta has worked as the Managing Director of Helsinki City Transport since 2003. Mr. Lahdenranta has had a long career in public transport business. Previously, he has managed Helsinki City Transport’s Bus Unit in 2001-2002. In 1989-1996, he worked as the Managing Director in one of the biggest bus companies in Finland, Vantaan Liikenne Oy / Oy Linjebuss Finland Ab and in 1984-1989 as a Managing Director in a smaller bus company Porin Linjat Oy. Before 1984 and 1996-2000, Mr. Lahdenranta worked as a consultant, mainly focusing in public transport issues. Between 1996 and 2000, the con – sultant projects included a lot of strategic development projects for organisations in various business areas.

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