Spatial Refueling Patterns of Drivers of Alternative-Fuel and Conventional Vehicles

Project: Research project

Project Details


Over the next several decades, countries transitioning from gasoline and diesel to alternative fuels will need to invest heavily in new refueling station infrastructure. In the early stages of transition, it is especially important that the initial networks of stations be located in convenient locations for potential early adopters of alt-fuel vehicles (AFVs). What constitutes convenience, however, has been a matter of debate. In particular, two classes of optimization models being used to deploy new stations take different views of convenience. Models based on the classic p-median problem locate facilities to minimize distance traveled from homes to stations. In contrast, flowintercepting/ refueling models locate stations on the way, as people make trips on their shortest paths. It is important to know which of these approaches best fits the actual behavior of AFV drivers. Many researchers have looked for insight into refueling behavior to two studies by Sperling and Kitamura, who interviewed drivers at gasoline and diesel stations in 198384. They found that while most drivers refueled near home, they did so on their way to or from somewhere else 93% of the time. Given the scarcity of AFVs on the road at that time, they used diesel drivers as a proxy for the refueling patterns that early AFV drivers might exhibit given the scarcity of alt-fuel stations they would encounter. There is an urgent need to update these studies using actual AFV drivers who must refuel at station networks that are sparser than the diesel-fuel networks of the 1980s. In addition, with tools from Geographic Information Science available today, a new study could analyze the extent to which drivers deviate from their shortest paths and could measure the sizes and configurations of station service areas. The objective of the proposed research, therefore, is to survey drivers about their refueling patterns and behaviors to better understand the key assumptions for planning station locations. Drivers will be interviewed at stations while they refuel, with appropriate compensation to research subjects. The survey will ask for the exact spatial details of their current trip. Socioeconomic and demographic data will be gathered and drivers will be asked whether they detoured from their desired route to refuel there, why they chose this station, and other questions. A total of 30 AFV stations (10 each in 3 different states) and a control group of 30 gasoline stations will be targeted. To investigate the effects of station site and situation, 2 gasoline and 2 AFV stations will be surveyed in each of 5 settings: central city; urban/suburban freeway; urban/suburban arterial; rural interstate; and other rural. Having 60 stations will allow us to do statistical analysis of refueling patterns of stations as well as of drivers. Geographic Information Systems will be used to measure distances from home, deviations from shortest paths, and characteristics of station-service areas. In addition to estimating distance decay functions from home or work, deviation decay will be estimated to gauge the decline in willingness to detour as a function of the size of the detour.
Effective start/end date9/15/102/28/14


  • NSF-ENG: Division of Biological & Critical Systems (BCS): $95,073.00

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