Ricardo Daziano would be the first to admit he fits the stereotype of the “artistic Italian” to some degree—he speaks multiple languages, enjoys oil painting—particularly in the style of the Italian Renaissance artists, and he is passionate about cooking.
“I love Italian food. Being Italian-Chilean, I’m biased and I think that everything Italian tastes better,” says Daziano, who has a cooking blog. When he’s not creating masterpieces at the easel or in the kitchen, he’s probably involved in his professional passion--understanding travel behavior, both individual and industrial, as a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell.
Specifically, Daziano combines economic tools with engineering solutions to examine low-emission vehicle adoption and sustainable travel behaviors. His current field of research represents both sides of his educational background—he received his M.Sc. in transportation engineering at the Universidad de Chile, in Santiago (“I liked the idea of using math and science to find real solutions to real problems”) and a Ph.D. in economics at the Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada.
“During my master’s, I took classes on transportation economics and travel behavior, so that helped me realize even more that you can use tools from economics to solve problems that are relevant to society,” says Daziano. “And, transportation is an everyday experience. You can see the problems—you don’t have to study anything to see the problems of congestion, of noise, of pollution.”
Daziano explains that economics brings a fresh perspective to transportation engineering; previously, researchers would create models of traffic using laws from physics, with vehicles programmed to act like particles. However, they soon found that these models fell short. “The problem is, vehicles aren’t particles. There are humans driving them,” says Daziano. “So you need to understand human behavior. From my point of view, you can have a very, very good technical solution, but if consumers don’t like it, they won’t adopt it—so in the end, it’s not a good solution.”
Daziano is currently looking to find these human-centric solutions in regards to low emission vehicles. Currently, while electric and hybrid cars do enjoy moderate sales numbers, they are a long way from dominating the automotive market. There are many reasons for this, says Daziano. “Even with all the marketing, even with the current subsidies, the price is too high for people.”
He explains that much of this issue comes from the limits that come with a low-emission vehicle, such as the number of miles the car can travel before needing to be recharged. “People are not satisfied—they are afraid of the battery dying,” Daziano says. “It’s one thing if your cell phone’s battery dies—imagine if you’re driving on the highway and your car stops working.”
Despite consumers’ fears, Daziano says that automakers aren’t offering greater driving range to electric cars because it would cost too much to produce, and consumers aren’t going to pay more than the already high price for these low-emission vehicles. While there are those who don’t mind paying a premium to drive a more earth-friendly car, that segment of the population is small. Daziano uses models to determine who is willing to buy these vehicles, and just how much they’re willing to pay.
Unsurprisingly, he’s found that those who are environmentally-minded are more likely to buy these cars. He’s also found via his models that women are more environmentally conscious, and are actually willing to pay roughly $2,000 more for a low-emission vehicle. These kind of concrete numbers are hugely valuable to industry marketers, who aren’t able to pin down these amounts through traditional market research. Daziano’s work on this was recently awarded by the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) for a total of $410,000 over five years.
When asked what kind of car he drives, Daziano laughs. “One of the first questions I always get is what car do I drive. I don’t drive one at all, is the answer,” he says. “I like to walk everywhere, and I like to use public transportation.” Daziano admits that, living in Ithaca, which lies a good 6 hours from most major cities, he may have to break down and buy a car soon. But for now, he’ll keep his emissions about as low as they can go.