From civil servant to MaaS Global, Krista Huhtala-Jenks needs no introduction. Having been at the forefront of technology throughout her career in the transport sector, we’re delighted that Krista agreed to share her time with us for the latest edition of Women in MaaS. From her entrepreneurial background and passion for mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) to her love of heavy metal – Krista is a true inspiration to everyone in the industry!
Krista Huhtala-Jenks, Head of Ecosystem & Sustainability – MaaS Global; Member Board Of Directors – MaaS Alliance
How did you come to work in MaaS?
My husband and I decided to move from Brussels to Finland in 2011 to be close to my family after we had our first child. It was around that time I got a job in the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications as their Coordinator of International Affairs. (My family owns a transport business so it’s no accident I ended up working in the sector!)
It was in the ministry that I got my first taste for MaaS. It wasn’t called that at the time, but that’s essentially what we were doing. A brilliant woman, the director-general Minna Kivimäki, greatly influenced what MaaS is today. She wanted us to push this new policy agenda in the international and EU forums. That’s how I developed an expertise in ITS and MaaS and ended up leading all of the MaaS activities in the ministry.
What projects did you work on in the public sector that you’re most proud of?
The Act of Transport Services. Finland was the first in the world to write legislation that was MaaS ready. It was a huge undertaking. We took all of the market access related legislation and streamlined it. We deregulated and created more room for innovation in physical services.
Alongside this, we were the first globally to introduce completely new legislation for data and open APIs. There was a big team in the ministry doing that and it was extremely exciting. It was also very, very strenuous.
There were a lot of different political pressures but we were totally transparent. We held several public discussions, all streamed live on YouTube. Civil servants were actively taking part on Twitter too. People don’t normally associate this with the way ministries work. I’ll always be proud to have been a part of that.
What was it like moving from the public to the private sector?
I don’t know how many times you get the opportunity to do something groundbreaking, first from a policy and regulatory perspective and then having the opportunity to be on the front lines, providing the actual consumer service. It was a pretty easy transition because the sustainable, decentralised, open ecosystem approach that is promoted by Finnish policy is reflected in the ethos of MaaS Global too. It totally aligned with my values and beliefs and is essentially my job here.
What sustainable outcomes can MaaS deliver over the medium- to long-term?
The first WHIMPACT study in Helsinki showed that our users are using public transport far more than your average Helsinki citizen. That’s one of the promises we made alongside everybody else. We strongly believe that MaaS should be built with public transport as the backbone.
What was exciting was that almost half of our users combine public transport with shared bike trips; a large percentage also did this with taxi trips too. Anybody who’s been working in the public transport sector for a long time knows that multimodality is the holy grail but it’s one of the things citizens hate. Changing to different modes is a pain but we found early signs that if you make access really easy, it changes everything.
When it comes to sustainability, it’s still early days. The public sector has to understand that as long as we have the freedom to experiment and push for sustainable outcomes in different ways, then we’ll do it. It’s built into our whole business model. But it’s not going to be clear cut. Different people have different triggers that motivate them such as diehard drivers. It takes time for them to adjust. There are also a lot of stakeholders that don’t believe in the open ecosystem which slows down progress.
What impact is this mindset having?
It’s the biggest hurdle. You need the willingness first. We don’t provide any physical services ourselves so it means we’re always in a partnership, and it has to be a win-win solution for everybody. There’s still a fair bit of hesitation, the need for access to APIs, avoiding vendor lock-ins – and an unhealthy obsession with who owns the customer.
This type of thinking has absolutely nothing to do with the customer; it’s holding tooth and nail to your position in the market. The transport sector has been very centralised and monopoly-led for a long time. In a sense, it’s natural that it’s taking some time.
Our job is to convince the different partners why this is a good thing. If you look at climate change and emission reduction targets, it’s a closed shop with monopolistic thinking and attempts to control the whole market. Who loses in that? The customer – and sustainability targets.
How is regulation supporting MaaS and sustainability matters in Finland?
We have very good regulation in place but unfortunately enforcement has lagged behind. For example, in Helsinki, we’re still the only MaaS operator active. There has to be competition. Luckily now we have an authority overseeing the implementation of the law and taking a much more active approach which is good.
The new government in office also is taking steps in the right direction with taxation – an issue many other countries face as well. It currently favours giving employees car benefits. That’s backwards. The government wants to change that so, for example, MaaS packages can be given as employee benefits. There’s already the demand from large employers but current taxation doesn’t support it. This is a key change in Finland that will nudge things forward again.
How integral is data and analytics within the public sector?
We need to encourage service operators as well as MaaS operators to share data with the public sector so they have a far better view of how the market is functioning and the results it’s producing. The government can use that data to develop different policies and regulative tools that don’t hinder or limit stakeholders or innovation.
It has to be results-based. The public sector needs to develop far greater capabilities and understanding of data. It’s a universal problem both at the city and national government level. They need to start hiring data wizards who understand analytics and how to translate that into policy and regulation. That needs to happen soon.
Do you think legislation can enable an open ecosystem?
Yes and no. It’s always good to remember that regulation is a very strong, invasive measurement. When formulating the transport code in Finland the different services were very fragmented and there was no way to shift the whole sector into a new digital environment. What we did was a zero-based review. If there was no regulation whatsoever, how would you regulate? Get rid of past history and think about it from the viewpoint of the consumer. Does the end user need us to regulate this?
The regulations we put in place for open data and APIs wasn’t about enforcement on the public and private sector. It was about building user-centric services without going from one monopoly situation to another. You want an environment that encourages a fair and level market for businesses to thrive. Sometimes you have to regulate though as there’s a great deal of stubbornness to change and unfair practices.
But we don’t necessarily need new regulation; we have general legislation such as competition law and consumer rights. Applying these to the transport sector would bring greater clarity and far less complexity for business and consumers. It’s mind-boggling we’re not doing more of that.
What do you see as the overall drivers to success for MaaS?
Focus on the consumer and sustainable modes of transport together. It has to be desirable for them to ditch their cars. There has to be choice and room to develop consumer-centric, personalised services. It means an open ecosystem approach.
Certain public sector stakeholders are concerned that if you let consumers choose they’ll opt for their car or taxis for every single ride. That’s not correct. If you make it hassle-free whilst at the same time developing, for example, the biking infrastructure and different incentives, this is something people want. But we all have to be truly consumer-centric. That’s key.
Who most inspires you in the world of MaaS?
Minna Kivimäki. My former director-general in the Finnish ministry. She’s so insightful, a trailblazer. She gives so much space to people around her but then also absorbing all the different information from stakeholders. She’s open-minded and forward-looking but at the same time tough as nails. Minna’s the one I learned the most from and I don’t think people know just how much this lady has influenced MaaS as we know it today.
About Krista Huhtala-Jenks
A truck driver’s daughter, Krista was introduced to the transport sector from an early age through the family business. It’s no surprise that she brought this entrepreneurial spirit to her work within the Finnish Ministry of Transport before moving to MaaS Global.
Krista is driven by her passion for MaaS, open ecosystems and sustainability within the sector. Trademarked for her love of heavy metal, when she’s not working she enjoys spending time with her two boys and husband, whom she credits for his incredible support and taking care of the household whilst Krista is busy working.