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Crunching numbers and parking reform: Lee Schipper Memorial Scholars present at Transforming Transportation 2014

posted Feb 27, 2014, 11:53 AM by   [ updated Apr 1, 2014, 10:08 AM ]
Sudhir Gota and Fei Li present at Transforming Transportation 2014. Gota and Li were the 2013 recipients of the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship for Sustainable Transport and Energy Efficiency, provided jointly by EMBARQ and the Schipper Family. Photo by Aaron Minnick/EMBARQ.

January's Transforming Transportation conference, co-organized by EMBARQ and the World Bank, featured 90 speakers. Two of the youngest were Sudhir Gota and Fei Li, the 2013 recipients of the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship for Sustainable Transport and Energy Efficiency. Gota and Li presented the results of their year-long research to a crowd of over 1,000 registered participants at the end of the conference’s first day – and TheCityFix, the blog produced by EMBARQ, caught up with them afterward for some Q&A.

Crunching Numbers for Low Carbon Transport in Asia

Gota’s research, “Crunching Numbers for Low Carbon Transport in Asia,” explored ways to improve the credibility and consistency of bottom-up modeling in Asia. In the transport sector, top-down modeling is a process by which total fuel consumption is derived from fuel sales data from suppliers. This method, however, does not specify which mode of transport consumed a given portion of the fuel. Alternatively, bottom-up modeling, like the ASIF framework developed by Dr. Schipper himself, calculates fuel consumption in the transport sector by converting passenger transport demand into fuel consumption. This process delineates how much fuel is consumed by each mode of transport, offering insight into what conditions drive high consumption.

Based on his research results, Gota argues that for many Asian countries – including India and the Philippines – top-down estimates are not realistic or consistent with conditions on the ground. Such inconsistencies lead to underreporting fuel consumption overall in many Asian countries, obscuring the negative impacts of car culture and increased motorization.

TCF: So you’ve crunched the numbers. How do we translate this data into implementation on the ground?

SG: We have to communicate it to policymakers, because policymakers make the decisions – they need to understand this. Until now, they have considered top-down as the good, accurate one [modeling approach] and bottom-up quantifications at the bad one [modeling approach]. To inform policies, you cannot really use the top-down approach, but the bottom-up framework provides insights from which they can base their policy and investment decisions. Policymakers need to get sensitized that bottom-up modeling with limited data can at least give you some insight on what kind of trends you are seeing.

It’s about gaining the insight that something is going seriously wrong with the transport sector, and that we need to take appropriate steps to correct it.

TCF: What’s the one takeaway people should remember from your research?

SG: Bottom-up quantifications provide insight on how to base your policy and investment decisions. They provide a way that policymakers can use limited data without waiting for years for the data to improve. Through prioritizing data collection, you can concentrate on what’s going wrong, and identify issues that need to be addressed regarding how data is collected.

Evaluating the Parking Standard Reform in London: A Matched-Pair Approach

Li’s presentation, “Evaluating the Parking Standard Reform in London: A Matched-Pair Approach,” recounted her research on an issue that she argues remains invisible to the public: parking policy. You may not realize that most urban development projects are subject to minimum parking standards, which require that a certain amount of parking spaces be made available depending on the size of the project. While intended to ensure adequate parking supply, minimum parking standards often lead to excess parking supply, which in turn encourages higher car ownership and usage by masking the true cost of allocating urban space for parking. Minimum parking standards also cause greater market distortion in the heart of urban areas. Li challenged conventional parking standards by examining a case study of London, United Kingdom’s parking policy reform. 

TCF: What’s the one takeaway people should remember from your research?

FL: There is a high, invisible cost to free parking that consumers don’t often know about because they’re so driven by the perception that parking is essential to living in a city. Developers can change their policies to better meet actual demand, but there are political obstacles to doing so, which are also driven by the perception that parking is important to maintaining a competitive, livable city. In fact, lowering the minimum parking standard doesn’t mean that people won’t have access to parking, it just means that developers have more flexibility to meet the actual demand of the population they’re serving.

Did this year’s scholars inspire you? To learn more about the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship for Sustainable Transport and Energy Efficiency, visit the scholarship’s website. Proposal submissions are now closed for 2014, but check back next fall for details on the 2015 application process. Donations to the scholarship fund are welcome at

This article originally appeared on TheCityFix, the blog produced by EMBARQ.