This week we interview Piia Karjalainen from ERTICO – ITS Europe and MaaS Alliance for our second article on Women in MaaS. Piia is one of the leading experts in mobility as a service and a driving force within MaaS Alliance, helping to bring some of the top minds in the industry together.
A true thought leader on the future of mobility, she kindly took time out of her busy schedule to discuss how technology and MaaS are reshaping the transportation landscape, the challenges and opportunities ahead and why now is the best time to start a career in this rapidly changing – and exciting – sector.
Piia Karjalainen, Senior Manager – ERTICO – ITS Europe & MaaS Alliance
Tell us a little about the work that MaaS Alliance is doing and your role within it.
MaaS Alliance sits under the umbrella of ERTICO – ITS Europe, which focuses on developing and deploying smart mobility solutions together with 120 Partners. Initially, MaaS Alliance started as a European network but since 2015 we have expanded internationally and have welcomed our first members from the US. This year our first member from Japan joined. As the internationally leading reference point for mobility as a service, it has been a great experience for me to see how interest has grown and how MaaS is gaining traction in many different business environments and cultural contexts.
One of our work streams in MaaS Alliance focuses on interoperability of services. But we’re also paying attention to user-friendly design and meeting the societal goals of transport systems while finding good business and governance models that benefit everyone. We’re creating an ecosystem built on trust, collaboration and an open approach.
My main task is supporting our MaaS community. It’s an endless source of innovation with different partnerships. You get to be in the middle of everything with so many innovations, great minds and new creative companies. Every day is different as the industry is developing at a rapid pace. I feel privileged to help shape our transport system to make it more user-friendly and sustainable.
What are some of the challenges that you see for MaaS?
MaaS is about using existing local networks and services more efficiently. Of course, we can learn from other industries such as banking where you have seamless payments and different contactless cards. By contrast, in mobility there’s always a local aspect: there are a variety of conditions and capacity restrictions on the transport infrastructure; services and models should always build on local collaboration. So, the scalability of the MaaS services for various local contexts is the challenge we have.
What’s the best approach to overcome that challenge?
MaaS Alliance has a mixture of 76 members, including private sector organisations and ministries, regional authorities and cities. Our members have knowledge, experience, progressive ideas and the latest technologies for mobility services. It’s about bringing together these different players within the ecosystem – and then co-creating. I believe that our membership is the best pool of individuals who can provide solutions to MaaS’ difficult questions so it’s basically about bringing people together.
What are your views on governmental approaches to MaaS?
Mobility as a service is a politically attractive option. Traditionally in transportation, policies designed to influence individual behaviour have been unpopular measures like taxation, restrictions to urban zones, parking policies, road tolls and congestion charges.
With MaaS, we can reduce congestion, improve air quality and channel people to use public transportation more. These soft measures offer a better transportation experience – and result in the same desired outcome. We need to decarbonise and reduce the adverse environmental impacts of transport and this has created lots of momentum for MaaS.
How is MaaS encouraging a circular economy?
There’s quite a strong focus on the circular economy in Europe. MaaS can easily be seen as the mobility sector’s response to this call: better design of products and services and smarter, more efficient use of existing resources – enabled by technology and digitalisation,
A recent impact study from Helsinki shows that with mobility as a service – even if you have all the different transport modes available – people tend to use more public transportation because it’s made so easy. You don’t have to worry about payment, tickets or travel information. Public transport is the core of MaaS, complemented by walking and cycling and shared resources such as ride sharing, car sharing, bike sharing, and other new modes of first mile / last mile services. It’s about wise allocation of existing resources and not thinking that individual car use is the only easy way to get around.
How can the first mile / last mile be made easier for people?
It’s a difficult but important topic and depends on how much we can influence behaviour because if you have to use your car for the first or last mile, you’re probably going to drive to your destination. One thing we have to acknowledge is that conventional public transport designed for the masses cannot be the solution in areas where there’s not enough demand.
I think the first mile/last mile solution will come mainly from different shared mobility services such as carpooling, car sharing and ridesharing. But here again, it’s digitisation which brings new tools to connect neighbours and other commuters, and even people within the same company who could share their ride. Digitisation can act as the aggregator of demand so we can create pools of different user needs who wouldn’t meet otherwise.
What opportunities will MaaS open up for society?
MaaS enables us to know what transport options are available. At the moment, there are so many different platforms and ticketing organisations that if I want to plan a trip to Finland where I was born, I’d probably have to use 10 different platforms to find information and buy my ticket. The process would be so time-consuming that I’ll probably take the easiest option – which is not necessarily the one that best matches my preferences. I might be willing to take the most sustainable option, but I don’t have any means to compare different kinds of supply.
The first step is to make the whole system more transparent so we know what’s available. Second, is to deconstruct the way we consume mobility to make it easier. For instance, we could pay for mobility in the same way we pay for mobile subscriptions today so that everything’s included and linked to your calendar. I could have a personal travel assistant on my phone which suggests when to leave for a meeting – and how – so it’s removing all the hassle of getting from A to B.
Looking to the future, we could combine this with the use of automated vehicles and other different transportation trends. The question will be less about how we move around and more about how we spend that time. If we remove the need to physically drive you don’t need your visual senses. This creates space for different entertainment services, not just radio – a medium which could be disrupted by these changes. Instead, you can watch something, chat or use the time as you wish for relaxation or working while commuting.
What one factor will underpin the success of MaaS?
It’s really about user experience. Mobility as a service has a big responsibility to deliver a user-friendly service; for companies it’s really the main KPI that counts. We’re competing with private car usage so MaaS has to be as flexible as the car, provide the same freedoms and offer real value.
Providers also have to showcase the environmental benefits of MaaS. As an industry, we need a strong commitment to something more sustainable than the conventional system if we’re not to lose political support.
What attracted you to a career in the transport sector?
At the time transportation wasn’t as dynamic as it is today, but there were plenty of opportunities to develop my career. Sometimes it included dives into the deep end without knowing how to swim, but they’ve all been very useful experiences. As a civil servant in Finland, I was encouraged and supported professionally and given lots of space to grow.
Now transport is a fast developing, high-tech industry. It’s very innovative and becoming much more user-centric. Business models are changing, as is behaviour, economics and allocation of public funding. For me, it was about being in the right place at the right time. I have been very lucky to combine something that I’m really passionate about and also to make it my profession.
Would you encourage other women to work in the sector?
Based on my own experience, I’d encourage people to consider working in the sector as we’re all consumers in mobility. We’re essentially designing better services for ourselves. You can have a positive impact on the quality of your own life and how society is working. For me, being a woman in the industry, which is quite male-dominated, hasn’t been an issue at all. In fact, at ERTICO we have a balanced representation of genders and that speaks volumes. It’s a great time for women to be involved in transport and the new-found dynamism in the sector makes it even more interesting.
Who in the industry inspires you?
I’ve been really lucky to work with many professional, inspiring ladies. In Finland the transport minister for the past 15 years has been female; many have been brave and great visionaries. In my current role, the director of our department Johanna Tzanidaki is also an amazing leader. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to experience working with such inspiring ladies.
About Piia Karjalainen
Piia has more than 15 years’ experience in the transport industry including Finland’s Ministry of Transport and Communications and as a policy advisor to the European Parliament. A post-graduate of economics, she first worked for the Finnish Road Administration and fell in love with the sector.
Originally from Finland, Piia has spent the past five years in Brussels and now devotes her time to ERTICO – ITS Europe where she is responsible for Urban Mobility and coordinating activities of the MaaS Alliance. Dedicated to promoting mobility as a service, Piia enjoys working with organisations from all areas of the transport industry.
Away from her busy role as senior manager, she loves adventurous travel. Yoga and friends are the elements creating balance in her life. Given most of her friends also work in transport in various roles, having a good discussion about the future of mobility often takes place over a delicious meal.