Award-Winning Look at China's Transportation Future


MIT Researcher Receives Award for Forecasts of Vehicle Use in China


Paul Kishimoto, a research associate for the MIT Joint Program’s China Energy and Climate Project, was one of five winners of the Dennis J. O'Brian Student Paper Award sponsored by the U.S. Association of Energy Economics on November 6. His study, “Applying Advanced Uncertainty Methods to Improve Forecasts of Vehicle Ownership and Passenger Travel in China,” analyzes the uncertainty of China’s transportation sector.

“This paper grew from work I did for a graduate course in uncertainty, which included methods like those used to generate the Joint Program's Greenhouse Gamble wheels,” says Kishimoto, a recent graduate of MIT’s Technology and Policy Program (TPP). “I think the judges recognized that the application to transportation was novel, and as a result I was able to attend a very engaging conference.”

China is home to the world’s largest vehicle market – a market that is increasing each day because of the country’s growing, wealthier population. Annual vehicle sales in China have grown by as much as 38 percent a year – a pace unmatched by any other country. China is also deeply reliant on foreign oil. In 2011, the country imported more than 60 percent of the oil it consumed. Along with this growth and reliance comes much uncertainty: How accurate are the statistics coming from the Chinese government? What policies will the central and local governments put in place to restrict vehicle use, subsidize alternate fuel vehicles, or redirect demand to public transit? What path will the economic expansion take, and how will this affect households' travel?

Using a Monte-Carlo sampling method to evaluate uncertainty, Kishimoto lays out a range of vehicle ownership and travel volume forecasts. These forecasts could be used to successfully plan and manage large transport infrastructure projects in China. In the average forecast, four out of every ten people could own vehicles in 2050. But this outcome is highly uncertain. On the other hand, a more certain forecast shows that there could be an eventual peak of about six out of every ten people owning vehicles. Shares of different transport modes show narrower ranges, in which urban and inter-city rail continues to supply at least 26 percent of passenger miles.

“These results are a useful counterpoint to our modeling using the MIT EPPA model. They show, given recent trends, how Chinese people might prefer to travel in the future,” says Kishimoto. “With EPPA, we can model how government policy, increases in fuel prices due to high demand, and other effects will alter these choices and the related energy use and emissions.”

Kishimoto was presented with the award at the International Association of Energy Economics’ Annual North American Conference in Austin, Texas.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Associated Joint Program People: 

Kishimoto, Paul