Buses at a city bus station in Joensuu, Finland—the first city to implement the Waltti card. Shutterstock

But Helsinki isn’t on board yet.

Finland is the latest country to introduce a transit pass that can be used not just in one place, but throughout many of its cities. After a single-city trial in Joensuu that started in January, the Waltti card was rolled out across six additional Finnish towns on August 3rd. The number of cities where the card is valid for use will rise to eight when Lahti joins in the autumn. Ultimately, it will go on to be used in both larger and smaller cities across the whole country.

While Waltti plans to expand to Finland’s second and third largest metros, Tampere and Turku, Helsinki has said it will not as yet be signing up to the scheme. Apparently, the technology isn’t compatible with the city’s ticket barriers.

None of the eight cities included in the scheme so far is especially big by global standards—the largest are Finland’s fourth and fifth largest cities, Oulu and Jyväskylä— but the scheme is nonetheless groundbreaking. Even before reaching its full extent, the single payment card pieces together an urban transit zone that contains more than 700,000 people, a substantial number in a country of less than 5.5 million inhabitants. In a world where universal fare cards are creeping into service across the globe, Waltti is an example of the sort of seamless payment system that may well become an international standard in the future.

The card works in a way that will already be familiar to many transit users. Much like Transport for London’s touch-in, touch-out Oyster Card, it can be loaded online either with a flat-rate season ticket or with a sum of money, part of which is deducted from the card each time a passenger passes through a barrier. The plan streamlines payment by obviating the need for different cards for different cities, making it far easier for Finns to hop from town to town without bothering with lines at ticket machines.

Finland’s universal fare card plans place it somewhat ahead of the game globally, but that should come as no surprise. The country has long been a trailblazer in using technology to streamline transit. Helsinki, for example, has long allowed passengers to buy transit tickets by SMS (a system also available in Denmark, Geneva, and Prague, among other places). More groundbreaking still is Finland’s brilliant Kutsuplus system, which allows users to utilize their phones to summon a nine-seater minibus to a stop, pay for a ticket, and choose a route, all for a little more than a regular bus fare but less than a taxi. Furthermore, Helsinki plans to make planning and paying for journeys by smartphone so easy and flexible that car ownership will become pointless within 10 years.

So far, so impressive. But the fact that trailblazing Helsinki hasn’t signed up for the Waltti card shows the growing pains of creating new transit systems. It’s all very well to try making things simpler through central organization, but there has to be mutual agreement on where that center lies and whose operational modes it will follow. Helsinki’s rejection of the card scheme highlights the difficulties of harmonizing infrastructure across a whole nation. Still, with Finns starting to use the same fare card, the idea that different cities once insisted on maintaining their own separate ticketing systems may soon seem ludicrous.

Top image: withGod / Shutterstock.com

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of cyclists riding beside a streetcar in the Mid Market neighborhood in San Francisco, California.
    Transportation

    San Francisco’s Busiest Street Is Going Car-Free

    A just-approved plan will redesign Market Street to favor bikes, pedestrians, and public transit vehicles. But the vote to ban private cars didn’t happen overnight.

  2. a photo of a WeWork office building
    Life

    What WeWork’s Demise Could Do to NYC Real Estate

    The troubled coworking company is the largest office tenant in New York City. What happens to the city’s commercial real estate market if it goes under?

  3. Bicycle riders on a package-blocked bicycle lane
    Perspective

    Why Do Micromobility Advocates Have Tiny-Demand Syndrome?

    In the 1930s big auto dreamed up freeways and demanded massive car infrastructure. Micromobility needs its own Futurama—one where cars are marginalized.

  4. A photo of an abandoned building in Providence, Rhode Island.
    Perspective

    There's No Such Thing as a Dangerous Neighborhood

    Most serious urban violence is concentrated among less than 1 percent of a city’s population. So why are we still criminalizing whole areas?

  5. a photo of Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters in London
    Environment

    When Climate Activists Target Public Transit

    The climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion is facing a backlash after disrupting commuters on the London Underground.

×