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Technology

Singapore looks to digital services to unblock traffic jams

One stop apps will help commuters jump out of cabs and onto scooters

A European startup that "believes owning a car doesn’t make much sense anymore" is bringing its Whim app to Singapore.

SINGAPORE -- Singapore is hoping to ease its congestion problems by encouraging foreign and local companies to help revolutionize the way consumers use its transport system.

Finnish mobility service provider Maas Global plans to enter the Singapore market early next year with an "all-in-one" app that consolidates all modes of transport services onto its platform. Singapore-born startup mobilityX is also expected to launch a similar app after last month announcing a new fundraising to expand in Singapore and the region.

"We have a big dream," Sampo Hietanen, founder and CEO of Maas, told the Nikkei Asian Review. Sometime in the 2020s, he said, Maas wants its Whim app on the smartphones of urbanites throughout Southeast Asia and Japan.

For decades, Southeast Asian metropolises have been infamous for the clouds of exhaust belched up by the vehicles that often sit motionless in traffic. Solutions to efficiently getting people where they are going have been sought for almost as long. Now the latest apps are offering to connect ride-hailing services like Grab with a range of other transportation options.

Maas and mobilityX hope to take advantage of the Singapore government's smart nation efforts to digitize its transportation services.

Whim's website proclaims, "We believe owning a car doesn't make much sense anymore for most people."

And that is exactly what Singaporean authorities, who have been encouraging residents not to own cars, want to hear. By 2030, the city-state's government wants 75% of all rush-hour journeys to be made on public transportation. It has another goal for its public transportation services -- to deliver 85% of all commuters on sub-20-km journeys to their destinations within 60 minutes.

It is not clear how these next-generation apps will affect Grab of Singapore and other ride-hailing services. "A couple of strong players may dominate the entire urban transport market," said Yang Nan, an assistant professor at the department of strategy and policy at the NUS Business School. "But it's too early to predict who would be these dominant players. The big picture is getting clearer, though: Transit operators are starting to see the opportunities in Maas and want to move in fast."

Hietanen said MaaS's goal is to make subscribers out of about 5% of smartphone owners who can afford its service in every city in which it operates.

As of October, about 60,000 smartphone owners in the European cities of Helsinki, Birmingham, Antwerp and Amsterdam were using Whim, which had put together 1.85 million trips.

In Singapore, Maas -- an acronym of sorts for mobility-as-service -- is partnering with ComfortDelGro, the city-state's largest taxi operator. Pricing plans and other details will be made available ahead of the Whim service becoming available in Singapore, according to a joint news release by both companies.

Hietanen said his company chose Singapore as Whim's first Asian city because the country's authorities have been "open and welcoming."

"We can only be in places where the industry is open and willing to work with us," he said. "There is quite an open atmosphere in Singapore."

The Singapore-born mobilityX in October announced Toyota Tsusho, a Toyota group trading house, as the lead investor in its series A fundraising round. It intends to use the funds to expand throughout Southeast Asia.

MobilityX's app will allow users to choose from taxis, e-scooters and bicycles. After selecting the modes they want to use -- perhaps a taxi for the first leg and a bicycle for the remaining distance -- users will then be directed to a payment page. Commuters will be able to choose to pay as they go or opt for a subscription plan.

Backed by Singapore subway operator SMRT Corp, mobilityX is now negotiating with ride hailing as well as bicycle- and scooter-sharing services.

"The complexity of options in the world of transport has increased a lot," said Colin Lim, CEO of mobilityX. "How do we piece together all these different modes of transport and simplify urban mobility? That's really our goal.

"There are companies out there who do journey planning, but based on our look at the different capabilities, almost all of them don't do the full end to end. For example, they may not include scooter or bicycle routes.

"We want to simplify the whole planning component for the user."

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