In the City Strategy, the objective is to lower the emissions of the transport system further and also reduce the emissions harmful to health significantly. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on traffic in the Helsinki region. The amount of motor vehicle traffic decreased, particularly when the COVID-19 restrictions came into force and remote work increased. The COVID-19 pandemic also caused changes in public transport passenger numbers.

Bicycle traffic was developed by many means 

Helsinki’s Cycling Promotion Programme 2020–2025 was approved by the City Board in November 2020. The programme contains a set of measures for developing bicycle traffic in Helsinki.

Kulosaaren puistotie was changed into a cycling street and made part of Itäbaana. On the cycling street, bicycles and cars travel in the same lane, and cars match their speed with cyclists. Thanks to this change, the street is a safer place for everyone, keeping the differences in vehicle speeds moderate and eliminating unnecessary crossing of the street by cyclists.

Itäbaana is part of the Baana network, which is the backbone of Helsinki’s cycling network. Itäbaana will become an almost 8-kilometre-long main route for cycling traffic. It will be built in parts, either in conjunction with projects or separately. In 2020, the Urban Environment Committee approved the Oravapuisto section of Itäbaana.

Thanks to the new Road Traffic Act, two-way bicycle traffic was implemented on one-way streets in Kruununhaka, Kluuvi, Kamppi and Etu-Töölö. The general plan for bicycle traffic signs was also completed in 2020.  

COVID-19 affected public transport and the city bike service

Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) aims to cut local emissions and carbon dioxide emissions from public transport by more than 90% (2010–2025). Another goal is for at least 30% of HSL’s buses (approximately 400 units) to run on electricity by 2025. At the end of 2020, 74 of HSL’s buses ran on electricity, and 30 of them operate in the Helsinki area.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused changes in passenger numbers from March 2020 onwards. Examined by mode of transport, passenger numbers in the HSL area decreased by 34.8% for the metro, 38.1% for buses and 33.0% for local trains in 2020 compared to 2019. The passenger numbers of trams also decreased by 38.6% from the previous year.

In 2020, there were 241 stations of the city bike service in service. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city bike season was started earlier, on 23 March. The season ended as usual at the end of October. The city bikes were used for approximately 2.6 million journeys in Helsinki. This was approximately 20% less than the previous season.

The Helsinki region ranked third in the international BEST – Benchmarking in European Service of Public Transport survey. The BEST survey compared passenger satisfaction in public transport in nine European cities. 76% of customers in the HSL area were satisfied with public transport in 2020.

Picture 7. The distribution of modes of transport used for journeys within Helsinki in 2020. Walking was the most popular form of transport, accounting for 52%, while the bus was the most popular form of public transport, accounting for 7%.

Progress in the promotion of electric and low-emission transport 

Helsinki’s goal is for electric cars to account for 30% of the vehicle population of Helsinki in 2035. In October 2020, there were 7,507 rechargeable hybrid cars and 1,379 electric cars in operation in Helsinki, for a total of 8,886 rechargeable cars. Rechargeable cars accounted for approximately 3.6% of all cars in operation, but this percentage is rapidly increasing.

There are some 200 public electric car charging points implemented by Helen Ltd in Helsinki, of which 58 were put into service at the start of 2020. Additionally, there are semi-public and private charging points in Helsinki. The semi-public charging points are located at service stations and shopping centres, among other places. Private charging points are located on properties, and they are usually related to homes and workplaces.

Helsinki promotes the adoption of electric buses by implementing charging stations at the terminal points of routes. At present, there are six operational charging stations in Helsinki, located at the Central Railway Station and in Hakaniemi, Ruskeasuo, Malminkartano, Koskela and Vuosaari.  

The spread of charging points was also promoted in the existing building stock in 2020. In Helsinki, the plot conveyance terms for Kalasatama require at least one in three parking spaces to be equipped with electric car charging equipment. Another requirement is the capability to equip all parking spaces with charging equipment.

There are also projects underway in Helsinki that aim to make worksite machinery and maintenance vehicles electric. Environmental Services commissioned a survey about measures that can be used to encourage city residents to purchase and use low-emission vehicles.

The preliminary surveys commissioned by Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) regarding a road toll system were completed in autumn 2020. The objective of the preliminary surveys, which each emphasise different themes (administrative, technical/functional, and service design), is to support the planning of a road toll system in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. The surveys were conducted as a continuation to the MAL 2019 plan. MAL 2019 is the strategic Land Use, Housing and Transport Plan for the Helsinki region. It describes how the region should be developed as a whole between 2019 and 2050.

Helsinki also prepared to execute the EU’s Clean Vehicles Directive. The directive will come into force on 2 August 2021, and when it does the Member States will be subject to binding obligations to include clean vehicles in their public procurements. Stara Logistics anticipated the entry of the directive into effect by drawing up a roadmap for the electrification of Helsinki’s own vehicles for 2021–2027. With the help of the roadmap, Stara will electrify all of its approximately 400 vehicles by 2027.

Implementation of Helsinki’s intelligent transport system development programme was continued

The gathering of up-to-date traffic data was promoted by increasing the amount and availability of open data in real time and by launching the implementation of an open data collection and sharing platform for traffic. Data is collected in Helsinki’s Azure data pool, from which it can be retrieved for use by situation awareness, monitoring and statistical systems related to traffic and transport.

In conjunction with the Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab project supporting innovation and experimentation related to intelligent transport, approximately ten new trials related to functional, safe and sustainable transport and mobility were launched in 2020. Additionally, the results of the robot bus transport trials carried out in Helsinki between 2018 and 2019 were analysed as part of the European mySMARTLife project.

Transport projects progressed 

The redevelopment of Hämeentie was almost completed in 2020. In late 2020, tram traffic was able to return to Hämeentie, and the cycling streets were completed

In 2020, the Urban Environment Committee made the following decisions that promote the sustainable mobility network in Helsinki: 

• Selection of alliance partners for the Kalasatama tram line project
• Cycling Promotion Programme
• City Logistics Action Plan
• Approval of the general plan for the western Helsinki tram lines

In autumn 2020, the MAL agreement for 2020–2031 was signed between the municipalities in the Helsinki region and the government. In this agreement, the government undertook to participate in funding the Vihdintie light rail line.

Passenger numbers as an infographic: Passenger numbers in car and public transport decreased on all calculation lines in 2020. On the western crosstown route, the number of passengers travelling by car decreased by 9.2%, while the number of passengers using public transport decreased by 43.9%. On the eastern crosstown route, the number of passengers travelling by car decreased by 2.6%, while the number of passengers using public transport decreased by 37.5%. At the peninsula border, the number of passengers travelling in both directions by car decreased by 8.2%, while the number of passengers using public transport decreased by 49.5%. In morning traffic to the city centre, the number of passengers travelling by car decreased by 15.6%, while the number of passengers using public transport decreased by 56%.
Picture 8. Passenger numbers in car and public transport decreased on all calculation lines in 2020.

The amount of motor vehicle traffic decreased on the calculation lines in 2020

In 2020, the amount of motor vehicle traffic (i.e. passenger cars, vans, lorries, trucks, buses and trams) in Helsinki decreased by 9% at the peninsula border and, similarly, by 8% at the inner city border in comparison to the previous year. On the crosstown calculation line, the amount of motor vehicle traffic decreased by 9% in 2020 compared to 2019.

On an average weekday in June 2020, the border of the Helsinki peninsula was crossed by 34,400 cyclists, which is 1.3% less than in 2019.

The number of Helsinki residents owning a car increased by 1.47% (422 cars/1,000 residents) and the number of cars in operation increased by 1.73% (334 cars/1,000 residents) compared to the previous year. The number of cars per 1,000 residents has increased by 4.45% in the last five years, while the number of cars in operation per 1,000 residents has increased by 1.71% in the same period.

Eyes on the future 

The population of Helsinki is growing and land use is becoming denser, which is why it is particularly important to control the harmful impacts of traffic. The impacts of COVID-19 will continue, and the increase in remote work will reduce the need for commuting on a more permanent basis. Electrification of the transport system is promoted strongly both by the Finnish government and the EU, and Helsinki serves as a forerunner in the transition to a more sustainable transport system. Key factors include land use planning, promoting sustainable modes of transport and introducing a vehicle traffic pricing system, among other things. Digitalisation is being utilised in developing smarter traffic data and traffic management methods, among other things. Additionally, sustainable transport options are facilitated with the help of data.