We are proud to introduce to you Jonathan Hall, transport economist, visiting Research Associate at the Department of Spatial Economics. Jonathan, originally from the United States, is also an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto. He came to Amsterdam along with his lovely wife and four children for one year on account of his successful admission to a European Commission funding programme.
About 7 years ago, Jonathan participated in a scholarly conference in Chicago where he met a fellow researcher who invited him to the Netherlands to participate in a seminar at the VU. Until that point, Jonathan and his wife had never been to Europe and got to spend three days in Amsterdam. Ever since then, they kept discussing coming back to the Netherlands for a few more days than last time because of how good of a time they had. Eventually, Jonathan and his family found their way back to the Netherlands almost one year ago when they found out Jonathan’s European Commission application for research funding at the VU was approved.
Welcoming and supportive department
When asked about what was it like to get settled in the Netherlands, Jonathan responds: ”The first month was pretty hard, but things got better quickly. The department was very welcoming and supportive, and since then, our time here has been wonderful.”
As a part of his one year in Europe, Jonathan and his family use every chance they can get to travel. In the last months, they visited countries such as Switzerland and Italy. ”I am a transport economist and am interested in how different cities and their transportation systems work. You can read books and research papers about this but I learn so much more being able to actually be there in person. I also love Europe’s rich history. The U.S. and Canada are young countries, so being here and seeing places that once used to be ancient cities and civilizations is just amazing,” Jonathan shares with us.
As mentioned previously, Jonathan is a transport economist. ”In my research, I am working on understanding how new transportation technologies such as Uber affect cities,” Jonathan explains. He then continues: ”The ultimate goal of this line of research is to help understand what life will be like when a large-scale implementation of self-driving vehicles happens. Another area of my research is congestion pricing or road tolls. The goal of congestion pricing is to improve traffic congestion by helping drivers recognize the full social cost of their choices. This is important because when a person travels somewhere by car, they slow down every vehicle on the road behind them, but when deciding whether to drive or take transit, most people don’t consider this additional cost they impose on others. Economists first proposed this idea over 100 years ago, but it remains unpopular. My research aims to find ways to implement congestion pricing that are more acceptable to the public. Congestion pricing will be particularly important as autonomous vehicles are introduced, as autonomous vehicles have the potential to make congestion significantly worse. The combination of autonomous vehicles with congestion pricing should lead to better, more pleasant, and less expensive transit options. I am quite optimistic about the future of transportation and cities.”
“The Netherlands is superb when it comes to transportation”
When asked about the Dutch transportation industry and infrastructure, Jonathan reacts enthusiastically: ”I think the Netherlands is just superb when it comes to transportation. The infrastructure here is fantastic. Because the Dutch cities are small, people don’t have to drive as much and use other means of transportation instead. I would love to try to understand what it would take for other countries to replicate the Dutch model. A challenge is that cities in many other countries are much larger, and in countries that are rapidly urbanizing, people are flocking to the largest cities, rather than a system of small cities as in the Netherlands. One of the joys of being an academic is getting to tackle these challenges.“
Jonathan seems to have enjoyed his temporary time at the VU. He says: ”The VU has the biggest concentration of transportation economists in the world and is the world leader in this field. Having the possibility to work in the same institution as many renowned scholars and interact with them has been wonderful, although the pandemic has made it a bit difficult at times. I am grateful that the VU is such a friendly and welcoming environment.”
We would like to thank Jonathan for taking the time and sharing his story with us and would like to wish him all the best with his upcoming projects at the University of Toronto where he will relocate after his current contract with the VU finishes.
If you wish to get to know more about Jonathan, feel free to take a look at his VU Research Profile, or read his research articles on Public Transit Ridership and Uber and on Traffic Safety Messages & Behavioral Interventions
International Office Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam