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John MacArthur's Q&A
John MacArthur's Q&A

John MacArthur is the sustainable transportation program manager at PSU's Transportation Research and Education Center and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Solutions. He has worked in the transportation and sustainability fields for 25 years.

What is your research focused on?

I focus on different aspects of sustainability related to multimodal transportation.

I do a lot of work on emerging technologies in transportation — electric vehicles, electric bikes, autonomous vehicles, scooters — and how those help people move around and are they breaking down barriers to people getting out of their car, reducing vehicle-miles traveled, and what are the benefits or impacts of using those types of technologies? For example, what is the potential for e-bikes to get people out of their car and into a different mode of transportation?

Other work that we do deals with bike-share programs and equity and how bike-share can be expanded to serve different populations more equitably by either providing more access to the bike-share or breaking down barriers for people who might not have otherwise thought about bike-share. An example of that would be some people who are low income and might not have credit cards or might not have a cell phone. How do you still allow technology to move forward without leaving behind certain populations?

I also do work around transportation planning after a disaster. We've been working on a couple different projects related to more resilient infrastructure and more resilient transportation modes to make recovery go quickly so you can get people back to their homes, work, and services as quickly as possible.

What are some challenges that prevent more widespread use of electric vehicles?

There's a big knowledge gap that's still out there about what an electric vehicle is and what it means to purchase one. Eighty percent of all trips in Oregon could be done by an EV with a 100-mile range every day, but people think about that one trip that an EV can't do. It's getting people outside of their traditional idea of mobility and letting them see that they can have a very efficient two-seater for all those trips they normally do and then that one trip down they go to California, they can rent a car for that weekend and it can be just as cost-effective.

More models also need to come out and the price needs to come down for widespread adoption. We also need policies that help mitigate the negative side but also promote the positive use of them. I think that's going to happen as more people purchase cars — the price will go down or there will be more variety within different classes of vehicles and different price ranges. Finally having the right infrastructure that meets the needs of people is important.

What can cities do?

Cities should balance what they need to maintain with what partners — like utilities or private companies — can provide in terms of having the right number of charging stations to meet everybody's needs. There are many people who would like to participate in electric vehicles but either can't afford to put in a charging station at home, live in an apartment building, or don't own their house.

We need to have the redundancy that we have with gas stations. You can drive down a mile and probably find a gas station, but can you do that with an electric vehicle? And can it mimic people's expectations where it takes no more than 5 to 10 minutes to fuel before they're on their way?

What excites you most about the work you're involved with?

We're at this amazing window where technology has come to a point where it can be applied within transportation and significantly change the way we move around. It's not just new devices or updated technology of new devices, but electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles, better scooters and bikes, autonomous vehicles, and shared mobility options — what they're calling disruptive technologies. I just think it's innovation; it's disrupting what we always thought about and planned for. It's not the only prime for new innovations but it's also a great time to be researching and studying how these things can change because it's happening so quickly.

We're also getting to this point of connectivity between transportation and data. With cars being able to talk to other cars, infrastructure, and planners and engineers, we're collecting data that we had only hoped to have. We're almost at the point where we have the data, but now how do we use it to make a better system? That's exciting.