Sociotechnical Systems Approach to Smart Cities
Addressing our pressing challenges related to the increasing demand for energy, we must make fundamental transformations in how societies use and access transportation. The purpose of a transportation system is not mobility but rather accessibility to goods, services, and activities. Mobility is only an unintended outcome of our accessibility needs and may be viewed as an intermediate service (the means) on the way to what we really need: access. A mobility system encompasses the interactions of three heterogeneous components: 1) transportation systems and modes, e.g., connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), electric vehicles, public transit, and shared mobility, 2) social behavior of drivers, operators (for autonomous vehicles), and travelers interacting with these systems, and 3) institutional behavior of organized units such as administrators that govern the transportation systems through policies. The constellation of these components constitutes a sociotechnical system that should be analyzed holistically. Yet current methods analyze, design, and optimize a mobility system with each of these components in isolation, resulting in lack of the understanding of their interdependence, imbalance between travel demand and capacity of the transportation network, and suboptimal social outcomes. This has significant implications traffic congestion, energy consumption, highway and public safety, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and travel delays that directly impact quality of life.
While several research efforts have shown the benefits of emerging transportation systems – CAVs, electric vehicles, shared mobility – to reduce energy and alleviate traffic congestion in specific transportation scenarios, one key question that still remains unanswered is “how can we develop an energy-efficient mobility system that can enhance accessibility while it is acceptable by the drivers, travelers, and the public?” To develop and operate an energy-efficient mobility system technological innovations need to be integrated with the social and institutional dimensions to ensure acceptance by the drivers, public, and community leaders.
Emerging mobility systems, e.g., CAVs, shared mobility, are characterized by their socio-economic complexity: (1) improved productivity and energy efficiency, (2) widespread accessibility, and (3) drastic urban redesign and evolved urban culture. This characteristic can naturally be modeled and analyzed using notions from Mathematical Psychology and Game Theory. One of our main arguments is that the social interaction of humans and CAVs can be modeled as a “social dilemma.” Namely, we are only concerned with the impact of the human decision before the vehicle's engine is even turned on. To rigorously address the emergence of rebound effects from the social interaction of humans and CAVs, we adopt a sociotechnical system approach where we analyze and model the mobility system with CAVs in a game-theoretic setting and emphasize its interdependence on the social interaction. Our goal is to improve our understanding of this social phenomenon, and then design appropriate mechanisms that will incentivize human decision-makers while preserving the highly positive technological benefits of the emerging mobility system with CAVs.
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