Nordjyllands Trafikselskab – innovating for holistic mobility
Interview with director Ole Schleemann
Interview with director Ole Schleemann
Nordjyllands Trafikselskab (NT), is responsible for public transportation in northern Jutland, Denmark. In EGGS, we know them as an ambitious client with an inspiring will to innovate to provide better services for their customers. To learn more about their vision for the future, we met with director Ole Schleemann, to hear his thoughts on challenges and opportunities for mobility in Denmark.
Ole, for those who are not familiar with NT, could you please tell us a little about the organisation and the services you provide?
“Yes, Nordjyllands Trafikselskab administrates and plans the public transportation in the northern region of Jutland (Nordjylland). We do this within the framework set by its owners – the Region Nordjylland and the eleven municipalities that belong to the region. In practice, this means that we plan routes and schedules and are responsible for trains, buses, and other forms of public transport, such as demand-responsive transportation. We work closely together with both the municipalities, the Region, and the operators, which are private companies.”
You’re Subdirector in NT– can you tell us a bit about your role and what it entails?
“My role means that I’m part of the direction of the company, and I am one of two subdirectors. I’m responsible for the part of the public transport system that consists of buses and trains – the main routes for mobility. The other director is responsible for demand-responsive transportation and what we refer to as ‘new mobility’ - flexible and needs' based routes, bikes, and carpools.”
What are the biggest challenges that you’re trying to solve as a service provider at the moment?
“At the moment our biggest challenge is to increase the number of people using the public transport system. Fewer users, of course, mean lower incomes, which in its turn risks having a negative impact on the quality of the services in the end. We saw a significant decrease in users during the pandemic, and this problem persists. Low user numbers were also a problem before the pandemic, but Covid19 aggravated the problem. There are also other explanations for this trend, for example, changing demographics with fewer young people, which is an important user group of public transport. Other changes also influence, such as the fact that cars have gotten cheaper in Denmark over the past few years."
How are you working to solve this problem?
“We’re working on several fronts. It’s a challenge that has to be treated holistically, so we’re reassessing the business as a whole. A couple of months ago, we finalised a new mobility plan, where we identified two main goals: 1. To attract more users to the public transport system, and 2. To make it easy to use public transport. The latter is essential. As it is now, the service itself is a barrier for many users. Those who already use the system have 'cracked the code,' so to speak, but those who aren't regular users often find it very complex to understand the services and how to use them. We need to make it easier and create a smoother experience if we are to attract new customers."
What role do design and innovation play in solving the problem?
”It plays a big role. Service design will primarily be essential for us to create a better, smoother, and easy-to-use service. Traditionally, public transport has not been a user-centered industry, but this is changing. We can see that we need insight and knowledge from our users to design and provide a service that meets their needs. Otherwise, we lose them as customers. People today have much higher expectations of services than in the past – not least when it comes to digital services. We need to create flexible, easy-to-use, holistic services, and we need design to do that.”
“The more people that use our services, the better, from a sustainability point of view. But this means that we have to innovate and improve our service offerings to attract more passengers.”Ole Schleeman, Subdirector, Nordjyllands Trafikselskab
What are you doing in NT to work towards the green shift?
“We have two tracks when it comes to working towards the green shift – technology and value. The technology track means that we’re using green options like electric vehicles, biofuels, and so on. The value track means we're working to deliver increased value as a mobility provider to encourage more people to use our services. Using public transport in itself is a sustainable act, as traveling collectively saves resources compared to using individual means of transportation. So, the more people that use our services, the better, from a sustainability point of view. But this means that we have to innovate and improve our service offerings to attract more passengers.”
“In Denmark, there has been a bit of a split approach, where we want to have the cake and eat it – we want people to use public transport, but at the same time, we want people to buy and drive cars.”Ole Schleeman, Subdirector, Nordjyllands Trafikselskab
What challenges do you see in the transport and mobility sector overall in Denmark?
"Generally speaking, all public transport providers have the same problem as we do when it comes to decreasing numbers of users. I believe Denmark has done poorly compared to Norway and Sweden in this aspect, where our neighbor countries have been more successful in encouraging the use of public transportation. In Denmark there has been a bit of a split approach, where we want to have the cake and eat it – we want people to use public transport, but at the same time, we want people to buy and drive cars. But we also have other challenges, such as the lack of qualified labour. One example is the shortage of bus drivers. They are, of course, essential to be able to provide high-quality service to users.
Lastly, another country-wide challenge is the one of the holistic travel experience. As it is now, it’s difficult to design a holistic and seamless experience for passengers since they have to deal with a wide range of service providers, with different ticket systems, different visual communication, and so on."
What opportunities do you see?
“I see many strategic opportunities. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel – the concept of collective transport is a fantastic solution in itself that is part of the answer to building a sustainable society. But we need to work with what we have already and improve the experience of it. One essential part of this is communication. By designing better, clearer communication, we can make it easier to use the services. The goal should be to make people's life easier with public transportation – that's how we can convince people to use it more."
“In the public transport services of the future, passengers should feel like they're using one service, making one journey, even if they're using different ones.”Ole Schleeman, Subdirector, Nordjyllands Trafikselskab
How do you imagine the public transport services of the future?
"I think that the backbone of public transport has to remain what we call the transport of masses – main routes for trains and buses. But the key lies in making the integration between this main network and other mobility services, such as flexible routes, bikes, special needs transport, etcetera, a smooth one. In the public transport services of the future, passengers should feel like they're using one service, making one journey, even if they're using different ones. They should also feel that the service 'holds their hand' throughout the journey. We need to provide a service that guides them and makes them feel safe, so they never have to wonder if they're on the right train or waiting at the right bus stop."
What has your experience working with designers been like?
“It’s been very exciting. With EGGS specifically, we worked together to redesign the look of our trains, buses, and boats to create a holistic look. It was a great experience because it gave us a lot of insight into what customers need and want. It also ignited important discussions and dialogue between different stakeholders. In the end, it gave us much more than just a new visual look."
New visual identity for Danish mobility company
Designing the vision for a sustainable, accessible, and seamless passenger experience
Establishing a collaborative ecosystem