The City Strategy aims for the City of Helsinki’s work on carbon neutrality to focus on the electrification of the transport system and the promotion of sustainable and smart transport solutions. When the strategy is implemented, the detrimental emissions will also be reduced significantly. The motor traffic volume increased from the previous year, but remained lower than the pre-pandemic levels of autumn 2019. Passenger numbers in public transport also remained low. 

New carbon neutrality goal accelerates the development of cycling

The objective of the Bicycle Action Plan 2020–2025 is for Helsinki to be a year-round cycling city for all ages. The City’s carbon neutrality target being moved forward directly affects the objectives of the action plan. The programme as a whole, and the planning of its target network, in particular, will be specified further to meet the new objectives. 

As for the cycling network, the most significant project in 2021 was the completion of the roadworks on Hämeentie. Hämeentie was upgraded as a street mainly intended for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. The upgrade will improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, in particular. 

Another significant development was the launch of the Kaisantunneli project. In the two-year project, a tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists will be built below the railway yard and the tracks at the Central Station. The tunnel will facilitate cycling traffic to the east and west, and it will be connected to the bike centre and bike parking facilities owned by Metropolitan Area Transport Ltd. 

Of the 130-kilometre target network in the city centre, 50 kilometres were completed or under construction in 2021. Of the 130-kilometre target for the Baana cycling network, 20 kilometres were completed or under construction. The number of bike parking spaces built came close to the target of 1,000 spaces set for 2021. 

The Walking Promotion Programme was approved by the Urban Environment Committee. In June–August 2021, the summer terrace and summer streets in Kasarmintori square were implemented.

The impact of COVID-19 continued in public transport

Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) aims to cut local emissions and carbon dioxide emissions from public transport by more than 90% (2010–2025). The goal is also for at least 30% of HSL’s buses (approximately 400 units) to run on electricity by 2025. At the end of 2021, 176 of HSL’s buses ran on electricity, 80 of which operated in the Helsinki area. 

Passenger levels in public transport remained low due to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to the pre-pandemic times. The number of passengers decreased by 7.3% on the metro, 3.6% on buses and 10.0% on local trains in the HSL area from 2020 to 2021. The passenger numbers of trams also decreased by 9.6% from the previous year. Compared to 2019, the impact of the pandemic was the clearest: the number of passengers decreased by 39.5% on the metro, 40.3% on buses, 40.0% on local trains and 44.5% on trams. 

The city bike season started on 1 April and continued until the end of October. In 2021, the were 457 operational city bike stations in the Metropolitan Area. In Helsinki, the service expanded by 105 new stations and 1,050 bikes. The city bikes were used for approximately 2.4 million journeys in Helsinki. The usage rate of the bikes did not yet resume the pre-pandemic level.

The Helsinki region placed fourth in the international BEST comparison. In the BEST survey, customer satisfaction ratings of the public transport of 11 European cities were compared. In the HSL area, 74% of customers were satisfied with public transport in 2021. 

Image 5. The distribution of modes of transport used for journeys within Helsinki in 2021. Walking was the most popular form of transport, accounting for 46%, while the bus was the most popular form of public transport, accounting for 10%.

Number of electric cars on the rise

Helsinki’s goal is for electric cars to account for 30% of the vehicle population of Helsinki in 2030. In 2021, the number of electric cars grew significantly from the previous year. By the end of the year, there were 14,125 plug-in hybrids and 4,401 electric cars in operation: 18,526 rechargeable passengers cars in total. Rechargeable cars accounted for approximately 8.4% of all cars in operation, whereas in 2020 this proportion was at 3.4%.

The public areas in Helsinki have about 100 public charging points for electric cars. In 2021, a new tendering competition for public charging stations was prepared, which will lead to Helsinki having 50 public charging stations in 2022. Additionally, there are semi-public and private charging points in Helsinki.

The implementation of the charging points will also be promoted in connection to new construction and urban infill. Furthermore, the City’s conditions for plot conveyance will support the increase of charging points in existing buildings.

In 2021, within the mySMARTLife project, the City and VTT worked together to set up a shared charger for electric buses and heavy vehicles in Hakaniemi. The pilot will accelerate the electrification of heavy vehicles. 

Helsinki advanced the incentives for low-emission vehicles. City experts started to offer free guidance on building charging stations for housing companies of blocks of flats. The Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) is implementing a similar measure for detached housing companies. The City of Helsinki Environmental Services and the ITS-Finland registered association organised a webinar series on low-emission transport for companies in the Metropolitan Area. An update to the parking discount for low-emission vehicles was also prepared.

The Act on Environmental and Energy Efficiency Requirements for Vehicle and Transport Service Procurements, and implementation of the EU Clean Vehicles Directive, entered into force on 2 August 2021. The Act will largely affect the increase of clean vehicles among Helsinki’s own vehicle fleet and transport service procurements. Low-emission worksite machinery and maintenance vehicles will also be promoted.

Smart transport solutions make routines smoother

The new City Strategy highlights the importance of smart transport solutions for ensuring smooth everyday life. Smart transport and the collection of up-to-date traffic data have been promoted in Helsinki until now through the Intelligent Transport System Development Programme. 

In 2021, the LIDO-TIKU project was launched with the goal of implementing a real-time service for traffic overview, statistics and monitoring images. The service allows data to be used in traffic planning, research and control.

The draft of Helsinki’s new parking policy was made available for residents’ comments in 2021. The objective is to price parking according to the desired service level and use real-time data of the parking situations. The preparation of the conditions for delivery traffic and parking IDs and the discount for low-emission vehicles also progressed in 2021. The IDs will be used via a mobile application. 

In connection with the Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab project, 12 new pilots and research, development and innovation projects related to smooth, safe and sustainable transport and mobility were implemented. Automatic bus pilots also continued in 2021, including the Sohjoa Last Mile project. 

Transport projects progressed

The construction of the Crown Bridges tramway and the tramway between Kalasatama and Pasila started in late 2021. Of the target of 25 kilometres for the Jokeri Light Rail, as many as 21.5 kilometres were completed by the end of 2021. 

The master plan for light rail lines in West Helsinki and the implementation thereof were approved by the City Council in January 2021. The tramway network in the city centre expanded in spring 2021 to Eiranranta and Atlantinkatu in Jätkäsaari . 

Helsinki City Council approved the project plan for the Sörnäinen car tunnel that will connect the coastal paths in Sörnäinen and Hermanni. 

A collection of vision objectives and indicators were prepared for the land use, housing and transport plan for the Helsinki region (the MAL plan), which was approved in the cooperative meeting for the Helsinki region in early 2022. The draft of the MAL 2023 plan will be circulated for commenting in autumn 2022.

Passenger numbers as an infographic: Passenger numbers in car and public transport increased on Helsinki calculation lines in 2021. On the western crosstown route, the number of passengers travelling by car increased by 3.5%, while the number of passengers using public transport increased by 29.5%. On the eastern crosstown route, the number of passengers travelling by car increased by 2.3%, while the number of passengers using public transport increased by 7.4%. At the peninsula border, the number of passengers travelling by car increased by 1.4%, while the number of passengers using public transport increased by 16.8%. In morning traffic, the number of passengers travelling by car decreased by 4.9%, while the number of passengers using public transport increased by 15.1%.
Image 6. Passenger numbers in car and public transport increased on Helsinki calculation lines in 2021.

The level of motor traffic on calculation lines remains lower than before the pandemic

In 2021, the amount of motor vehicle traffic (i.e. passenger cars, vans, lorries, trucks, buses and trams) in Helsinki increased by 2% both at the peninsula border and at the inner city border in comparison to the previous year. On the crosstown calculation line, the amount of motor vehicle traffic increased by 3% in 2021 compared to 2020. Despite the growth of traffic volumes, the results for all three calculation lines were still lower than in the pre-pandemic times in autumn 2019. 

On an average weekday, the border of the Helsinki peninsula was crossed by 31,400 cyclists, which is 8.7% less than in 2020. 

The ownership of passenger cars in Helsinki increased by 1.62% from the previous year (428 cars per 1,000 residents), and the number of passenger cars in traffic use increased by 0.68% (336 cars per 1,000 residents). The number of cars per 1,000 residents has increased by 4.53% in the last five years, while the same number for cars in traffic use has increased by 1.87% 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. Transport is becoming increasingly electric, especially in terms of light vehicles, thanks to the direction of the EU and the development of the market. In addition to electric transport, Helsinki’s carbon neutrality goal for 2030 can be achieved by affecting the vehicle traffic performance. Key factors include land use planning, promoting sustainable modes of transport, pricing and increased services related to transport. The increase in remote work will reduce the need for commuting on a more permanent basis.