MIT Report Analyzes Factors That May Impact Personal Mobility Choices

A new report issued by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative (MITEI) details how individual travel decisions will be shaped by complex interactions between technologies, markets, business models, government policies, and consumer preferences —especially when it comes to the broader adoption of alternative fueled vehicles (AFVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs).

That report – entitled Insights into Future Mobility – is the culmination of MITEI’s three-year Mobility of the Future study, which is part of MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change.

Photo by the U.S. Air Force

For example, the report focuses on several factors influencing an individual’s decision to adopt an AFV, such as an all-electric vehicle, which include cost, driving range, and charging convenience. The study concludes that as production volumes increase, battery costs and the purchase price of electric vehicles will decrease, which will in turn drive sales.

Improved batteries would extend the vehicle range, reinforcing the attractiveness of alternative fuel vehicles to consumers, the researchers found, and greater deployment of electric vehicles creates a larger market for publicly available charging infrastructure, which is critical for supporting charging convenience.

Photo by DDOT

“We found that substantial uptake of battery electric vehicles is likely and that the extent and speed of this transition to electrification is sensitive to evolving battery costs, availability of charging infrastructure, and policy support,” said William Green, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and the study’s chair, in a statement.

“This large-scale deployment of battery electric vehicles is expected to help them reach total cost-of-ownership parity with internal combustion engine vehicles in approximately 10 years in the U.S.,” he added. “It should also lead to new business opportunities, including solutions for developing cost-effective methods of recycling batteries on an industrial scale.”

University of Minnesota, autonomous shuttle bus

The report also examined how the introduction of low-cost, door-to-door AV mobility services will interact with existing modes of transportation in dense cities with incumbent public transit systems. It found that introducing this low-cost mobility service without restrictions can lead to increased congestion, travel times, and vehicle miles traveled — as well as reduced public transit ridership.

However, those negative impacts can be mitigated if low-cost mobility services are introduced alongside policies such as “first/last mile” policies – using AVs to transport riders to and from public transit stations – or policies that reduce private vehicle ownership.

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