BP Invests in App Maker Aimed at Killing Private Car Ownership

By Kelly Gilblom | November 7, 2019

BP Plc is investing 10 million euros ($11.1 million) in the makers of the app Whim, which allows users to pay a monthly fee to access both public and private transport in their city.

The company that owns Whim, MaaS Global, started offering the service in Helsinki in 2017. A study early this year suggested the app’s users in Finland curbed their private car use, turning instead to the taxis, public transport, bicycles and rental vehicles they were able to access for a single flat rate using the service.

BP’s investment will give it access to the technology underpinning the service. Like other oil companies heavily reliant on fuel sales, the British oil major is seeking a foothold in businesses that understand changing consumer preferences around mobility.

“Whim is super convenient,” said Roy Williamson, vice president for advanced mobility at BP, in a statement. “It takes the hassle out of planning travel, taking on board users’ preferences and connecting and booking their ideal transport choices.”

In Helsinki, Whim offers four different “plans” which users can sign up for. The cheapest is a pay-as-you go deal, where the app tells a user the best way to get from one destination to the next using a combination of public and private transit options. The user pays for and collects tickets within the app. In the most expensive option, users pay 499 euros a month for unlimited access to rental cars, taxis, public transport and city bikes.

MaaS Global, which stands for “mobility as a service,” has published reports which say creating a single digital plan for all types of transport will be important to cut congested and polluted streets, and foster the shift to automated cars. In the future, private car ownership may fall while software helps people find instant, easy and cheap transit options, according to a report from MaaS in March.

In one year, the company said it found its users relied on public transit, cycling and walking more than others in Helsinki. Though it doesn’t track private car rides, “new mobility” options could replace 38% of daily car trips, the report said. Whim is now also available in Birmingham, the U.K. and will soon be available in Vienna and Antwerp. BP’s investment will support expansion plans in Singapore and the U.S., the oil major said in the statement.

BP executives have talked and written about the importance of understanding the changing dynamics of transport, which will affect the way customers access BP’s retail stations and demand for its fuel. The company is already the largest investor of electric car charging in the U.K., anticipating rising demand for vehicles without a combustion engine.

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