It doesn’t matter if it’s by automobile, horse or foot the issue has been a constant one what’s the best method to travel to Point A to Point B? At one point it was just transportation, and the objective was to move in the most efficient, cost-effective and most secure manner. Today, it’s focused on reducing the carbon footprint as well as making electric vehicles more compatible.
This is the basis of Jinhua Zhao’s research. “I study how people move and why people move,” states the MIT’s Edward as well as Joyce Linde Associate Professor of City and Transportation Planning. It’s all about how to improve the way people move. This isn’t an easy feat, as it’s about motivation. However, through technological advancement and the possibilities that alternative modes of transportation continue to prove, Zhao believes that there’s the potential for creating more equitable and efficient systems.
The necessity of viable alternatives
One of Zhao’s major areas of focus is multi-modal mobility where he aims at combining technology with various modes of transportation such as trains, buses scooters, shared vehicles and bikes to enhance the way people commute. While the requirements differ from one place to another area, there are some goals that are the same across the globe. The people want affordable, security and most importantly, reliability that is, “I want my bus to show up regularly,” the driver says. The problem, he says is “No single mode can satisfy all desires.” Public transit can help reduce pollution and congestion however it isn’t customized. Cars are the best option for flexibility and freedom, but they’re not the most efficient.
And location does matter. Cities with more dense populations have advantages as they are closer to each other and more people mean there are more choices to coexist. Also, it helps if an area is designed with the proper roads, sidewalks, and other infrastructure. What makes any effort more effective is when the government takes the initiative in coordination of their actions however, this isn’t always the situation, Zhao says.
In the majority of cases, Europe provides a model for the rest of the world due to the above reasons. In London for instance trains, buses and roads are all under the supervision of a single agency, making it simpler to adjust when there is an inevitable delay for example, like offering shuttle buses or repurposing them when the demand changes. The city officials also promote cyclists and walk. The general consensus is that people have many options to think about therefore the first choice isn’t just to get in their vehicle, Zhao says.
He’s looking to adapt the same model and approach and transfer this to United States. The main issue is to alter behavior which is usually accomplished in three ways: imposing the charges, creating rules, or setting new rules. The first two options are simple — governments could charge tolls or shut off roads to traffic. The third is a bit more complicated since it requires people to change their habits that may take a long time, but once the personal purchase is made, “It’s the more powerful one,” He says.
The main obstacle, particularly for the United States, is overcoming what Zhao refers to as “car pride,” the quality of the value that people place on their car. It demonstrates status and personality and lets you show the world that “I can afford this.” It also signifies the freedom to choose. One can travel where they’d like, whenever they’d like to and it’s not easy to abandon, particularly in the absence of alternatives.
Another option is to display pride in your car in a different way, but this requires changing the process of accounting for driving. It is possible to determine the time it takes to travel and how much gas cost. However, ask them “What’s your carbon output?” They’ll just smile. It’s not enough to know the issue, but awareness is the first step to making the environment an issue, he adds.
Another approach, that can be used in conjunction, is being more informed. As Zhao says, a state must be aware of its current operating conditions, from when trains are moving to where busses are in any particular point. In the event of any disruption, it’s informing commuters of alternative routes to ensure that people don’t make decisions on their own and causing “chaos in the system.” London is doing exactly that by periodic updates to boards and the option of taking passengers to a different station. The drawback is that boards is only able to provide a certain amount and doesn’t have the ability to personalize suggestions.
This is the reason Zhao suggests that any endeavor could be better if it was the public-private partnership since nobody owns the solution. “It needs a collective effect,” Zhao states. The government can provide the infrastructure, while private businesses can create an application. It can be able to take into consideration a person’s preferred preferences, such as the quantity of stops or cost; receive their direct feedback; or even predict and provide personalized recommendations for that particular day.
Because it’s built on personal information and data, privacy is always a major concern, however Zhao claims that it’s an opportunity. An organization could offer an option that is tier-based which includes privacy as an attractive feature over the more expensive options, and ultimately, allowing users to choose what information is acceptable to share. “It could be a differentiator,” the CEO states.
Also, those electric vehicles
They’re still viable and will increase within the coming 10-year period, Zhao says, since people are enthralled by them and will always have resources. But they’re only limited. They’re best utilized with predictable commutes and if they’re ever going to expand enhanced battery power as well as the availability of charging stations and additional pricing needs to be figured out.
Infrastructure is the element that is particularly important and that receives “insufficient attention.” One way to aid over the next 10 years is to prove the effectiveness. Technology is getting mature enough to prove that congestion is reduced, accidents are reduced. With the proof, investment should be increasing.