An interview with Sampo Hietanen: “The Nordics have all the tools, but just keep talking”

As part of our recently launched book Predicting the Unpredictable – a Nordic Approach to Shaping Future Cities, written by Jonas Gustavsson, President and CEO and Helena Paulsson, Head of Urban Development, we conducted a number of interviews with experts relevant to the book’s subject.

Bikes in a city.

This is an excerpt from the book "Predicting the Unpredictable - a Nordic Approach to Shaping Future Cities".


Sampo Hietanen, CEO of MaaS Global, which operates the app Whim in locations including Helsinki. He is the creator of the concept Mobility as a Service (MaaS). The term Mobility as a Service has had a global impact. People everywhere are talking about it as a vital ingredient in the future transport mix, with subscription mobility services replacing private car ownership. The man behind the term, Sampo Hietanen, is a Finnish traffic engineer.

“The idea came to me in 2006 while on an airplane. I was on my way to a conference to lecture on how technology would disrupt the transport sector. I began to compare various sectors and how digital transformation had impacted them, above all, the telecom sector. In the 1980s, every family had a telephone and paid for a fixed line. Over time, technology made it possible to have an individual subscription through which you paid for a service allowing you to make and receive calls.

At that time I was working as head of traffic information services for the state-owned Finnish Road Enterprise. It struck me: this is the kind of disruption we will see developing in our sector.”

Did you start the company in 2006?
“No, no, the technology was far from ready. There was a long way to go. Apart from anything else, it demands mobile internet and smartphones. It was more of a prediction. I realised that it would happen in the transport sector as well.”

The first attempt to implement the concept was a project in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2009. It was a good project and the results were fairly positive, but, as projects do, it came to an end and nothing more came of it. Transport operators are extremely slow on the uptake, especially the old monopolies.

In 2011, the idea found its way into Finland’s national transport strategy. By 2015, the pieces were beginning to fall into place and in 2016 Sampo Hietanen created the company MaaS Global. The first testbed for MaaS was Helsinki. The service currently has 100,000 users in Helsinki, a tenth of whom are regular users. Sampo estimates that in 2020 or 2021, four or five years after its launch, the service will have enough subscribers to be financially self-supporting.

“It won’t work until we have a solution that offers a sense of freedom from the car, supplemented by other alternatives and, preferably, in a city that is attractive to pedestrians and cyclists.”

The potential is enormous. Europeans spend an average of €616 per month on transport. If a total mobility service can approach that level of willingness to pay, then MaaS stakeholders will be falling over themselves to offer their services.

“Interest from other cities is massive. We receive visitors from other cities every week wanting to know what we do and how we think. Just today there were large spreads in the Chinese and Japanese media. There was a big article in the latest issue of Forbes. Many cities are now trying to create their own versions of MaaS. I had no idea that it would be so big.”

So, it will not remain a Nordic phenomenon?
“No, not at all. It is developing most rapidly in the Netherlands, especially in Flanders. In China as well. Even in the US, although there it is developing within the framework of certain companies looking to control every element of the offer. We are more interested in acting as a hub tying together the services. The problem in the Nordics is that decision-making processes take such a long time and that there are still monopolistic structures that are resistant to change. In fact, it is entirely possible that this inertia will make MaaS a Nordic idea that has the greatest impact elsewhere in the world.”


Helena Paulsson - VP and Head of Business Area Architecture and Design

Helena Paulsson

VP and Head of Business Area Architecture and Design

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