LØRN case C0163 -

Bernt Reitan Jenssen



Sustainable mobility

In this episode of #LØRN, Silvija talks to Ruter's CEO, Bernt Reitan Jenssen, about courageous management in the public sector, the new use of energy in the transport sector, and how Ruter will achieve the goal of becoming emission-free by 2028. Bernt also shares his thoughts about when an automatic payment of your public transport will take place, in addition to when you will be transported environmentally-friendly and driverless from door-to-door. Bernt holds a seat in the Norwegian government’s Expert Committee on Technology and Future Transport Infrastructure and leads the national strategy group Transport21, whose mandate is to recommend key areas for research and development and advise the government on how to meet the transportation challenges of the future.
LØRN case C0163 -

Bernt Reitan Jenssen



Sustainable mobility

In this episode of #LØRN, Silvija talks to Ruter's CEO, Bernt Reitan Jenssen, about courageous management in the public sector, the new use of energy in the transport sector, and how Ruter will achieve the goal of becoming emission-free by 2028. Bernt also shares his thoughts about when an automatic payment of your public transport will take place, in addition to when you will be transported environmentally-friendly and driverless from door-to-door. Bernt holds a seat in the Norwegian government’s Expert Committee on Technology and Future Transport Infrastructure and leads the national strategy group Transport21, whose mandate is to recommend key areas for research and development and advise the government on how to meet the transportation challenges of the future.

21 min

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SS: Hello, and welcome to Lørn and ONS Energy’s podcast. Our topic today is energy. My name is Silvija Seres, and our guest today is Bernt Reitan Jensen. He is the CEO of a public transportation company from Oslo called Ruter. Welcome.

BJ: Thank you, Silvija.

SS: Your company is in the transportation sector, and you are a publicly owned company. You are also one of the most innovative companies that I know of. Before we get into why Ruter is here on Energy Talks, I would like to ask you to tell us who you are and why you do what you do.

BJ: I am fascinated by technology. I was almost an engineer when my friend advised me not to become a nerd, and instead go to BI and study economy.

SS: And you still became a nerd?

BJ: I still became a nerd. I still spend three or four nights a month just looking into the very inside of my PC, trying to understand and stay updated on technology. It really drives my wife to insanity to have all this gadgets and things, and everything that is flying around. I just love it, and I think I have learned so much just in being interested in technology. To be updated helps me in my work as a manager, because the world is changing and it’s changing fast.

SS: You are one of the most inspiring leaders I know of, in such a potentially boring area, which is public transport.

BJ: It’s not boring, Silvija. It’s a part of people’s daily life, and it really has to function. There are so many changes that boring is not the word.

SS: Boring is not the word. So what did you do before you were in public transport?

BJ: I actually ended up in transport as a pure coincidence. It started with driving the curier (?) cars when I was a student. I used to be the CEO of TNT, which is an international express company. From there I went on to Norwegian post, which also has undergone very large and immense changes. I say that I went from the parcel business, where we tried to treat the parcels decently, and now we are in the business where we maybe used to treat people like parcels. I don’t know. There was really a big change, because we had to be more focused on our customers and understand them better. And not treat them as parcels.

SS: The image that I have of you in my mind now that you are talking, is that you really are a logistics person. And that’s a very complex system that needs an optimal solution, but the opportunities for solutions are changing very fast, because of all the changes we have in many sectors, including energy. How is energy relevant for what you do?

BJ: Energy is a central part to what we do. We use a lot of energy. And historically, we have used a lot of fuels which have not been very environmentally friendly. That is an undergoing change right now, and our goal is to be completely imition free by 2028, which is a very ambitious goal by Norwegian, and even international standards. There are not many companies that have such aggressive plans to change their use of energy.

SS: You talk a lot about electrification, and we will get back to that, but you also talk a lot about new kinds of energy sources. I am on your board, and we have a lot of discussions on how we should do the logistics, and the whole project management of getting many buses over to bioethanol or hydrogen. There are so many alternatives, and it’s a huge exploration.

BJ: It hasn’t actually been crystal clear in the last ten years. It’s better now, because we see that the end of it all is electrification, in some sort of way. Ten years ago we experimented a lot with different kinds of biofuels. We had five buses running on hydrogen and fuel soil, which is also electric. Our way into this has been to let the market develop and decide what the better solution is. We are only focused on imition, and how to keep it low. The ultimate goal is to get completely rid of them. But on the way while we are getting there, I think it’s very important to let the market develop, take the risk, and come up with a solution which is the best one at that certain time. That might even change. We might need some intermediate technologies, because the final goal is not really achievable. But from my point of view electrification is the solution for transport. I’m really looking forward to being a serial (?) imition transport system.

SS: Norway has a big role in electrification of private transportation. I think we are the country with the highest penetration rate of Tesla’s.

BJ: I have just been to California, and when we told them about this number, that every second private car that was sold in Oslo was an electric car, they just looked at us and were really amazed that it’s actually happening in Norway.

SS: And it’s interesting, because Norwegians in general, are used to having a lot of energy, whether it’s oil or electricity, but something was done politically in order to drive people to use these electric cars.

BJ: Someone had to lead and take some risks to achieve these changes, and I think what we have done in terms of private cars, has also changed the car industry. But I don’t think Norway is the only country where they have done that. Just to make that clear. But we have played a vital role, and I have seen how Norway gets recognized for that when travelling abroad. The role of driving electrification of the private car. So now it’s time for the bigger vehicles to follow. The buses are well on their way. And now we also see that trucks and heavier vehicles are also being electrified.

SS: It’s really a lot of fun, because at first I thought that it was all about subsidies. You help people, and allow people to remove some of the taxis that they would normally pay for, and electric cars that they buy, which they of course do, but it is not only that. What I have learned to appreciate is how much infrastructure that must be prepared in advance, in order to let people come. So you have a similar challenge. And especially regarding these charging points that are necessary when you need to adjust all of these buses and ferries. I know that Norway does amazing work on research. The world’s first fully electric ferry runs on a Fjord in Norway, and we have some really interesting train results, and so on. But you are the one who has to make sure that they have a charging point.

BJ: First we need to make sure that it actually brings our customers from where they are to where they want to go. There is a chance that the serie imition does not work and gets a negative reputation, and that the people start pulling the brakes on this entire development. So first of all it has to work, and we need to have good customer experiences. We have a standard that going to serie imition should actually improve customer experiences, and there shouldn’t be any compromises. So you don’t have to expect less, just because it’s serie imition. I don’t think that this is costing us money on the long term. We discovered some years ago that electrification actually is a more cost efficient driveline. This is a cost that is occuring on a temporary basis. We are actually aiming for a lower cost level with electrification. Not higher. So the investments that we are making to make that change happen, is actually bringing the upside that we are going to have from this forward. Lower cost and higher customer satisfaction. Because noise levels, what is happening around the vehicle, and less pollution are all positive things. The reason for why we are so enthusiastic about this, is because it’s almost all upsides. But it has to work.

SS: I also like how you talk about how this changes societies. I just want to underline that what we have talked about so far, is a very important part of this conversion trend. There are very different, traditionally separate silos, both in regulation, but also in research on energy, transportation, social aspects of safety and friendly cities. All of this is merged into something, so we have to talk to each other. I also love what you say about autonomous vehicles. People say that it is in the future, but parts of the job that they do, can already be automated today. Maybe we will never have a completely autonomous bus, but some of the work will be automated, while other parts of the work will be saved for our social instincts and human advantages. And you were talking about how much this changes the nature of cities. I remember that you showed us these maps, and said that if we introduce autonomous short distance mini buses, and how the prices will immediately change. Because everything will suddenly be closer.

BJ: It might be like that. We really don’t know how fast all these changes taking place will happen, but should we take the risk of it not happening fast? The consequences can be very grave if we aren’t prepared. And what you are mentioning, is that the concept of a bus, is that there are fifty passengers or more who twice a day have to come with all the money that is needed to pay the guy in the front. It doesn’t have to be that many passengers for the rest of the day, but there has to be a lot of people there in the morning and the afternoon in order to collect the money so the bus can run for the rest of the day. The person at the steering wheel is actually sixty percent of the cost. And the business model changes if there is nobody there. The buses could be smaller. They could run 24/7. We are now constructing the cities around the current technology, and if this technology changes, then the rules of where people can live and what they can expect of the transport system will change too. And we need to know much more about all this to take the right decisions.

SS: You have talked about energy and about electrification, but I imagine that batteries will also be a big part of what will make this work.

BJ: If you look at the curves, you see that the electric density of the batteries and the cost is an exponential curve falling. I talked to Airbus last weekend on what their thoughts were on how the batteries are developing, so that they can be adaptable for airplanes. And they think that they can have flying airplanes with hundred passengers flying one thousand kilometers, before the next decade is ended. And this completely changes the way we view air transport. Today it is very polluting on a short haul, and the airstrips that we have in Norway is a system where you now hardly can get aircraft. This might also change in the next five to ten years.

SS: We have talked about energy, electrification and batteries, but there are many other areas of technology that are changing our world. One of them is digitalisation. And big data, as well as AI. There are also very interesting examples, both for better planning, as well as a predictive maintenance. But also planning for different routes, timetables, schedules and so on. And then there are also ideas for automated ticketing, like Amazon Go, only on a bus. How does that work?

BJ: Lets first imagine that we have enormous success with the mobile ticketing. The old ticketing system was not really a success.

SS: It was never really completed? We came into this mobile word, so we basically leapfrogged. The whole generation.

BJ: That was the case. When we inherited the system about ten years ago, it did not meet the customers expectations. The system was there for our sake, and not for the customers sake. So we really had to change it. And because we had been challenged by that, we actually managed to leapfrog. We had to think differently about everything that we did. We had to place the customer in the center, and ask them what it was that they wanted. And when we asked them, they said that they wanted to buy a ticket in ten seconds and two clicks. Then we asked them if they really wanted to buy a ticket, and they said that it was not like they woke up in the morning with an intense urge to buy tickets. So how can we develop the next system which actually helps customers to not buy tickets? Then you could just travel around and get the bill in the mail, or preferably by email or in any other way you wish to pay, at a preferred time, and at a charge that is fair for you. If you travel enough, you would get a monthly fare or single tickets if you don’t travel that much. All this can be achieved by thinking differently about ticketing. We tested this with a couple of thousand of our customers, and they said that they loved it, but that it wasn’t a ticketing system. It’s more of a fare collection, and the app is not about buying tickets, but actually about building trust that the right fare is collected. So we had to think completely different about what it is that customers want.

SS: You’re not a controller. You are a friend. In terms of transportation needs.

BJ: You can say that. We changed the rules for the ticket inspectors, so that they reward the ones who pay, instead of fining the ones who don’t. We should be building the willingness to pay. That people are happy with the system, and that they are being treated fair. And if they are not prepared, or if they are doing something that they haven’t planned and make a mistake, they will often get the opportunity to get a warning. However, those who intentionally try to fraud us will still be getting fines.

SS: Very cool. I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about how it is being a leader in the public sector. You are inspiring, and I love the way you talk about these things. And especially your quote where you say that you went from being a business of moving people from where they are not to a place they don’t want to go, to now being a world where they travel whenever they need to where they want to go. I remember that you had a slide saying that you first thought that you were in the business of providing people with mobility solutions, but that you now see that you are providing people with the freedom to move. That was visionary.

BJ: If we understand that we are here to help people move around freely in a sustainable way, because the ability to move around is very fundamental to our feeling of freedom. To not let someone move around freely is something you would do if you want to penalize someone. Or put them in jail. So it’s that strong of a feeling. But it isn’t good for the planet if we spend a lot of energy on moving around, and it isn’t sustainable. And it can also be unfair if it is a privilege for the few.

SS: We need to finish relatively soon, so I just want you to comment on how you created the space for yourself and your leadership team to take the necessary risks in order to explore, and how you built a learning culture in your organization, so that they are willing to change and fail fast if it is necessary.

BJ: It would be great if I could give some adaptable rules on that for everyone, but I can only share some of the experience we had in Ruter. We say that if you want to move, you also need the space to move. And you can only build this space with trust. You need space and trust amongst the employees, your clients, and also your owners, which is very important to us. If we manage to build trust, then we can also do interesting and challenging things, and even take risks, which is not really common in public sector. I think that we can have some risk credits in the bank if we build trust, and we might even be forgiven, because we are going to make a lot of mistakes. We have made mistakes, and will make even more in the future. My job is to keep those mistakes small, because learning is what you do while making small mistakes. And that is the importance of seeing if you are going on the wrong path early, instead of going further down that road before discovering it.

SS: Would you like to leave our listeners with some sort of energy quote?

BJ: If we read big, public procurements into that word, and if we don’t try to purchase the future technologies now and don’t use that force to do that, then the future might come to late. Because we invest a lot of money in technology, and if we are too conservative, then we can create a situation where the future won’t be here on time.

SS: The most expensive solution might actually be an outdated technology investment.

BJ: And that is a great risk in this area.

SS: Thank you so much for joining us today, Bernt Reitan Jensen.This was not only inspiring on new uses of energy in the transportation sector, but also on very brave and inspiring leadership in public sector.

BJ: Thank you very much, Silvija.

SS: Thank you for listening.


What are you doing at work?

Carving out the direction for public transport and sustainable mobility. This includes applying the UN sustainable development goals in all our work internally and externally.

What are the most important concepts in energy technology?

How digitalisation and new technologies are challenging old business models, for example big data, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and autonomous driving. And the electrification and the transition of public transport and future mobility solutions.

Why is it exciting?

Because these concepts are changing our industry and the society. In other words, this is changing the way people live and move around.

What do you think are the most interesting controversies?

The speed of change is always difficult and creates controversies. The need for a vision and a direction is important. There will always be controversies. I am more interested in how to deal with them, than what they exactly are.

Your own favourite projects in energy technology?

I am fascinated by the rapid change from a conventional combustion engine to a battery run electric vehicle. We see it in cars, but also on boats and bus services. It’s important as Norway are so far ahead. It’s a system change of both the energy and transportation industry, and if we make it here it will have positive implications for many other cities and countries.

Your other favourite examples of energy technology internationally and nationally?

Drone and robotics technologies.

What do we do particularly well in Norway of this?

Collaboration with each other, learning culture, and fail fast.

A favourite energy technology quote?

If we don’t procure the technology we know is needed for a sustainable development now, this future might never come.

Most important takeaway from our conversation?

We are in a time of significant changes in technology and it’s important to ensure that this change is for the better.

Bernt Reitan Jenssen
CASE ID: C0163
DATE : 181217
DURATION : 21 min

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