SPPD Ph.D. Student Wins Best Paper Award

By Ben Dimapindan

Pengyu Zhu wins Tiebout Prize Pengyu Zhu, right, receives the Tiebout Prize from Tschangho John Kim, past president of the Western Regional Science Association
Photo by Mingxia Sheng

Pengyu Zhu, a Ph.D. student at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, was awarded the Western Regional Science Association’s 2011 Charles M. Tiebout Prize for the best paper submitted by a graduate student.

Zhu received the honor on March 1 at the association’s 50th annual meeting in Monterey, Calif. His paper – “Are Telecommuting and Personal Travel Complements or Substitutes?” – will be published in The Annals of Regional Science, an international quarterly journal.

The association, founded in 1961, is an international, multidisciplinary cohort of university scholars and government and private-sector professionals dedicated to the scientific analysis of regions.

According to Zhu, the paper explores how telecommuting shapes workers’ one-way commute trips, daily total work trips and daily non-work trips. The paper also addresses a key question in urban policy analysis – whether telecommuting and personal travel are complements or substitutes.

Zhu noted that urban planners and policymakers have been proposing telecommuting as part of travel management programs to reduce congestion. Several studies, based on small samples, have found that telecommuting has a small substitution effect on commute travel.

However, Zhu, in his study, uses two large national samples to more accurately identify the impact of telecommuting on workers’ travel patterns.

Through a series of empirical tests, using data from the 2001 and 2009 National Household Travel Surveys, Zhu found that telecommuting creates a complementary effect on not only workers’ one-way commute trips, but also their daily total work trips and total non-work trips.

The idea behind the paper stemmed from Zhu’s own interests in transportation, land use, housing and urban sustainability, he said.

“Pengyu tackled an interesting question, applied appropriate statistical techniques and came up with plausible and useful findings,” said SPPD professor Peter Gordon, the faculty adviser for Zhu’s dissertation.

In addition, Zhu credited the supportive environment at SPPD as a factor in his honor.

“The quality of education and scholarship at SPPD is excellent,” Zhu said. “The advice I received from faculty members and my colleagues has greatly helped me to achieve this award.”