Dr Johanna Tzanidaki joined the ERTICO team as Director of Innovation and Deployment (I&D) five years ago. Last March, she took on the mantle as Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) by working on a more strategic level of innovation trends in smart mobility. In this first episode of the relaunched series ‘Meet the Experts’, Johanna T, as we call her in the ERTICO office, explains her new role and how it fits within the organisation and the broader context of Intelligent Transport Systems and Services (ITS). Beyond her passion for Mobility Network Management (MNM), Johanna T touches upon ERTICO’s USP, the three hot topics that are important to ERTICO and the future of smart mobility innovation.  She ends the interview with an insight from the ERTICO office.

What are some of your key responsibilities as Chief Innovation Officer (CIO)?

The role of CIO is very much linked to Innovation undertaken by the ERTICO Partnership and, therefore, to the I&D department. Supporting the identification of Calls and projects from a strategic direction in close cooperation with the Director of I&D, Vlad Vorotovic, is a main task of the CIO role. The roll-out of this position was a conscious decision of the Management in order to integrate all the different activities of our organisation (such as the Innovation Platforms, the Data Spaces and initiatives like the Academy and the City Moonshot) towards a common goal. The ERTICO Roadmaps and the path of the four integrated focus areas are our ‘guiding maps’. They are the result of a long consultation process with the ERTICO members and the statutory bodies of the Strategy Committee and the Supervisory Board. The scope of the work of CIO also involves close contact with the ERTICO Sectors to better understand their needs and to help identify potential new members to strengthen the capabilities and targets of the organisation. Another important component is to work with the statutory bodies of ERTICO in order to align with their decisions while at the same time developing connections and building bridges with other mobility-related stakeholder organisations in the eco-system. The strategic partnerships being concluded by ERTICO with organisations such as the International Road Federation (IRF), the European Space Agency (ESA) and TISA, with all of which we share some common members, are fundamental to complement ERTICO’s expertise and further promote a holistic approach in making mobility smarter, efficient and more sustainable.

What is the USP of ERTICO?

Looking back at the global trends from the past decade at ERTICO, digitalisation of transport has been a prominent theme since ERTICO’s inception, and ERTICO’s USP is how it approaches innovation in this field: innovation activities at ERTICO engage both the public and the private sectors and stem from the cooperation of its members on a win-win basis. ERTICO partners agree that to succeed in innovating, one should not do it alone anymore. ERTICO is in the unique position to use the constructive dialogue and exchange of best practices taking place amongst its 8 different stakeholder sectors in creating smart mobility concepts and facilitating solutions: Ministries and cities from the public sector find themselves in good company with service providers and suppliers who are able to listen to their needs and work towards solutions that suit their specifications. At the same time, research centres and universities can back research and innovation up with solid desktop and lab tools and results. Users, the Traffic Industry and connectivity providers are very important partners in making sure that deployment is possible and truly fulfils innovation requirements. ERTICO’s panoramic view on mobility puts it in the unique position to be able to address mobility as a system using a holistic approach and balance public-private interests in driving innovation forward.

Is there any specific topic that you burn for with this holistic perspective of ITS?

For the past four years, Mobility Network Management (MNM) has been a key driver of this holistic approach, involving a more profound and integrated understanding of Multimodality, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), Traffic Management and the impact these have on the broader network. MNM stems from the work undertaken by public and private members within the TM2.0 ERTICO Innovation platform, which focuses on interactive traffic management. Under the TM 2.0, the public and private stakeholders of road-based traffic management have managed to agree on common principles that form the basis of being able to understand each other’s needs and interests. That is very important as a step considering that up until 2015, when TM 2.0 was set up, public-private stakeholder dialogue and cooperation in traffic management was not really possible. Since then, TM 2.0 has adopted a dynamic and cooperative approach in managing traffic flows that serve as the basis for the facilitation of alignment of traffic information messages, for example, to ensure that the drivers receive information through their in-vehicle devices by service providers that perfectly corresponds with what is given on the Variable Message Signs (VMS) on the road by public traffic management centres. This involves cooperation and dialogue between the public and the private sector and co-opetition towards a common strategy with regards to alleviating congestion for all, not only exclusively for the clients of this or the other company. Optimising traffic flows is a win for all, not only for the private service provider or the public authority.

MNM follows the same principles. MNM is not new to ERTICO, but for many other stakeholder organisations within the mobility ecosystem, it is. MNM is now slowly becoming integrated into the legislative and funding priorities at the European level, and this is the main result of our thought leadership in this field and of our persistence and perseverance in explaining and raising awareness that dialogue and cooperation among mobility stakeholders are beneficial to the entire mobility system that we should not be looking at the mobility network as a group of silos of modes but as an interrelated, integrated system where one mode’s congestion has an impact (spillover effect) into all others.

The Mobility Network Management concept elevates the TM 2.0 principles of co-opetition and dialogue onto the level of the entire mobility network and sees the networks of ferries, public transports, road, active mobility and urban air mobility as pieces of a puzzle comprising a whole. This approach will allow cities to manage all mobility modes guided by the bigger picture of the entire mobility network and by the impact any kind of decision potentially has on it. This approach is expected to be key in ensuring balance throughout the mobility modes. Sound MNM will ensure well-informed decisions by the public authorities, who will set targets and objectives for all mobility providers to follow so that the network can be ‘load-balanced’, to use a traffic management term.

Could you briefly touch upon three new hot topics currently for ERTICO?

The first one is micro-mobility, including modes of mobility such as bikes and electric scooters, which disrupts everything we knew how to control and manage until now. A core focus should be data collected by micro-mobility, such as trajectories, patterns and the positioning of these modes while active or parked. This will ensure their operational safety and better management of the kerb and urban space. Micro mobility brings more stakeholders into the task of mobility management, and these are not anymore only the micromobility providers and mobility managers but also the urban designers and parking stakeholders (the latter entered the ecosystem some time ago already of course). It is also important that there are solutions developed on how to cater for the needs of micro-mobility users, who seem to have a completely different and many times unpredicted behaviour on (and off) the road. Integrating micro-mobility into the network presupposes that we have enough data available, and this is the first step we should be taking since micro-mobility is not just a trend that rose in popularity during the pandemic. It is popular with the younger generations, flexible, sustainable and agrees with the active lifestyle of today’s users. It is here to stay.

Similarly, the second hot topic is energy. Energy is not only eco-driving (a topic the ERTICO partners have been working on for a number of years already) or alternative fuels (also a favourite topic in our innovation projects under the focus area of Clean and Eco-mobility), but it is in addition also concerned with the management of the grid, its capacity and timeslots allocation to demand, on answering the question of how to ensure enough and well placed charging stations along mobility routes and mobility hubs. For example, energy stakeholders are now involved in mobility discussions more than ever, as their cooperation with city planners, traffic management centres, and traffic information providers is becoming part of our innovative concepts within ERTICO’s work on innovation. Needless to say, Energy is becoming even more important for the entire mobility network due to the rising penetration of electric vehicles (EV- not only cars!) into the network, let alone the culmination of the geopolitical challenges we currently face.

The last hot topic that deserves attention is cities, not only because they are given more power in decision-making for mobility plans and related investments but also because they are better placed to understand the needs of the local public and private stakeholders. This enhanced decision-making role that they assumed in the past 3 years is a very important one, and I see it as a positive development in building the future of mobility since they are the Partners who are called to implement and deploy innovation that used to happen until recently, without their input. Now cities are dynamically participating in our projects and running pilots, testing and trying out innovative ITS solutions in their sites, neighbourhoods and sandboxes. They are in the position to know what works for them and what does not. They are able to share this information with us during our City Moonshot interviews and be critical in how to demand tailor-made solutions. Public authorities, representing cities, regions and ministries are representing almost half of the ERTICO Partnership and rightly play a prominent role in requesting smarter and more affordable but also more accessible and inclusive ITS-empowered mobility that can provide the answer to their needs. Mobility innovation is attracting more and more cities that look at solutions such as urban air mobility or environmental traffic management with a critical but favourable attitude, who have a full understanding of the benefits of ITS and of the future that digitalisation brings for us all. These are the Cities that we predominately work with and these are the cities that will be ready for the challenges to come.

Your insight from the ERTICO office?

Innovation succeeds when everyone wins. The ERTICO partnership is served by a team of experienced experts and colleagues who are passionate about connecting the pieces of information coming from the ERTICO partners with regards to their targets and plans in building innovation initiatives at the European level. They successfully keep up to date with innovative solutions and products in the market and work closely with the ERTICO members to conceptualise and co-create tomorrow’s mobility. All colleagues are multitasking and hard-working and working alongside them for the past five years has provided me with a wealth of technical knowledge as well as with the confidence that everything is possible!