Complex Systems in Transportation: How to Influence Vehicle Purchase Decisions
- By Jonathan R. Dowds
In complex systems, dynamic, nonlinear interactions among entities lead to higher level patterns that are difficult to predict. “Complex systems research takes a philosophical approach, which recognizes that systems have emergent properties and that a reductionist approach, which focuses only on individual components of the system, may not be sufficient for understanding system-level behaviors,” explains Dr. Maggie Eppstein of the UVM Complex Systems Center (CSC). “There are many potential complex systems applications in the transportation sector; everything from interactions between drivers on the road to crisis response and evacuation planning can be studied using complex systems methodologies.”
Promoting collaborative, interdisciplinary complex systems research across UVM is central to the CSC mission and contributes to a natural partnership with the Transportation Research Center. “One of the things that makes the complex systems approach so powerful is that it can work in many different domains and the insights gained in one domain can transfer to very different domains, ” states Dr. Eppstein. “We want to continue to integrate and synergize with UVM’s unique areas of strength, such as the TRC.”
The value of that collaboration is evident in TRC’s Signature Project #5, “Multi-Scale Model of the U.S. Transportation Energy Market for Policy Assessment.” For this project, Dr. Eppstein and her colleagues are using agent-based modeling to explore factors that could influence sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). By examining model sensitivities to potential leverage points, the research team can identify policies and procedures that could be most effective in promoting PHEV market penetration.
Results indicate that unless agents can estimate and make known differences in lifetime fuel costs across vehicle types, PHEVs are not likely to significantly penetrate the market. “If policymakers want PHEVs to catch on, they need to find a way to make this comparison easy for consumers, such as through information required on vehicle stickers,” Dr. Eppstein concludes. This work was presented at the 2nd Annual Complexity in Business Conference in November and is currently in journal peer review.