Joram Langbroek’s PhD defense

“Understanding processes and travel behaviour changes connected to electric vehicle adoption”

At the end of September I defended my PhD thesis which was supervised by KTH professors Joel Franklin and Yusak Susilo. It focuses on behavioural aspects of electric vehicle adoption, but also on the use phase. I think that one of the main take aways of this study is the need to not only concentrate on getting more people to drive an electric car, but also on how people might change their travel habits.  When we compared the travel behaviour of people that are currently driving an electric vehicle with the travel patterns of people that are currently driving a conventional car, the EV-users seem to drive more and make more trips.

Because a transition towards electric vehicles is only one strategy towards a more sustainable transport system, while we simultaneously try to increase the use of alternative transport modes such as public transport and active modes, we should acknowledge that driving more would be an undesired side-effect of electric vehicle adoption.

But why would people drive more? The previous years there was a lot of attention for range limitations of electric vehicles, or so called “range anxiety” making people not even willing to use the range that is available to them. However, electric vehicles are getting better and better battery packs and the coming generations of EVs will probably not cause any problems for day to day trips, as long as the right charging infrastructure is available. Providing overnight charging at housing cooperatives can be an important push in the right direction to solve the charging issue. The “problem” of electric vehicles, which is a solution at the same time for the Total Cost of Ownership of EVs, is the fact that EVs are more expensive to buy but less expensive to operate. The main reason is that driving an electric vehicle is significantly cheaper due to electricity costs being much lower than petrol or diesel costs.

Besides the cost perspective, people also have a perception of electric vehicles as a very environmentally friendly means of transport. The respondents in our study stated that the EV was more environmentally friendly than the conventional car, but also more environmentally friendly than public means of transport (buses, trains and metros). Electric car drivers do not feel “guilty” of driving a car.

On a transport system level, what would happen if we would be successful with electric vehicle adoption, but if all car drivers would drive 20 per cent more? Besides the additional energy use for the propulsion of heavy vehicles, how will congestion levels be affected? These potential side-effects of electric vehicle adoption deserve more attention. Therefore, in the ITRL project “Towards a Sustainable use of Electric Vehicles” (that will go on from 2018 until the end of 2020), there will be much attention to travel behaviour connected to electric vehicle adoption. Besides that, the system of stakeholders of the “EV urban ecosystem” will be studied in order to get more insight in the circumstances in which people are likely to increase their driving, as well as potential ways to avoid this negative side effect. Is it policy measures? Or perhaps we should be careful with where we provide charging infrastructure?

Access the full thesis here

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