Taxpayer waste? Feds spend $400k 'to build a robust theory of carpooling'

Funders expect increased pooling to improve both "environmental outcomes" and "social equity."

Updated: July 3, 2021 - 11:43pm

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This week's award goes to the National Science Foundation for two identical grants totaling $400,000 for research "to build a robust theory of carpooling."

The grants were awarded to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Penn State University.

"This NSF grant will contribute to the sustainability of the nation's future green transportation by exploring the dynamics of carpooling in urban transportation systems, considering that an individual's choice to use a carpooling service depends on how many others choose to do so as well," according to the award abstract.

The research is premised on the assumptions that carpooling will have benefits for both the natural and social environments.

"Improving carpool options," according to the grant summary, can "improve environmental outcomes, by reducing vehicle travel, and social equity, by providing reasonable travel times to those who cannot buy or drive a car but who do not live close to convenient transit options."

It is expected that the research findings will be "used to develop and refine pricing, taxation, and other policy strategies that can both promote pooling and reduce urban traffic congestion."

The NSF appears to be particularly interested in amassing data to confirm the self-reinforcing network effects of increased pooling. "The research will break new ground by bringing to bear tools from dynamical systems, search/matching theory and network-level traffic relations to build a robust theory of carpooling," the summary explains. "To validate the theory, the research team will use empirical data collected from open data sources, as well as our industry partners.

"Case studies of real policies to promote carpooling will inform the research and provide an evidence base for future work. The research activities will provide a new paradigm for modeling carpooling services and ride-hailing systems that will have significant impacts for the next generation of urban transportation systems."

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