This research project will examine how the geographic arrangement of alternative-fuel stations affects consumer decisions to purchase an alternative-fuel vehicle. The project will use a number of different approaches to assess the ways in which the presence and locational arrangement of fueling and charging networks influences consumer willingness to purchase or lease alternative-fuel vehicles that operate with liquid biofuels, compressed natural gas, electricity, or hydrogen. The project will provide new insights because it will move beyond previous studies that focused on the distance from home of a single hypothetical station or the percentage of gasoline stations that offer an alternative fuel and study how prospective adopters evaluate the geographic arrangement of a station network. The project will consider the different dynamics of different kinds of fuel systems, moving beyond previous emphasis on slow-charging electric vehicles by giving greater attention to the more rapid recharging of newer electric vehicles and refueling of fast-filling hydrogen or natural gas vehicles. In addition to focusing on this specific problem, the project's spatial-analytic approaches will be adaptable for use in examining other types of facilities besides fuel stations. The project will help address a major barrier to consumer adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles: the lack of conveniently located fuel stations. Project findings will contribute to planning more efficient and effective station networks, thereby facilitating the use of such vehicles and enabling them to serve as a more viable complement to other modes of transportation.
The investigators will use four different approaches to explore answers to the project's overarching research question: How do prospective buyers assess the geographic arrangement of alternative fuel stations? They will conduct an online survey of owners of compressed natural-gas vehicles in Southern California to gather information regarding where those drivers lived, worked, and refueled at the time they purchased their vehicles. This study will reveal whether buyers were more likely to rely on a station near home when they purchased the vehicle and whether they adapted over time by switching to a station farther from home but along frequently traveled routes. In a second study, the investigators will ask potential fuel-cell vehicle adopters in Connecticut to provide feedback regarding how maps of different refueling station networks affect their decisions to purchase a fuel-cell vehicle, thereby helping identify which criteria may be most influential among a range of options generated by optimal station location models. In a third study, the investigators will conduct interviews with potential customers of fuel-cell vehicles in California in order to develop an ethnographic decision-tree model of the consumer decision-making process. In the fourth study, the investigators will engage consumers and industry stakeholders in planning a network of refueling stations using a geodesign process that enables them to use geographic information systems in hands-on workshops to develop spatial plans. By employing four different methods in three different regions for different types of vehicles, the project will enable the investigators to approach a complex issue from various angles to produce a deeper understanding of how to arrange stations to best promote adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles.