A professor with purpose: Leticia Dexheimer uses FedEx-EMBARQ research to educate and inspire

A professor with purpose: Leticia Dexheimer uses FedEx-EMBARQ research to educate and inspire

Setting the foundation for a paradigm shift towards sustainable vehicles and fuels

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It’s a Tuesday evening in September in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Professor Leticia Dexheimer, PhD, takes her place at the front of a lecture hall before twenty students enrolled in her Transport and Environment course offered through the Universidade Federal de Pelotas (Federal University of Pelotas) at a satellite campus in Porto Alegre.

Leticia has been a professor at the University since 2012, and it’s a groundbreaking time to be in her field.

“The concern of so many cities with sustainable mobility is exciting. All of the investments in cycling networks, bus rapid transit (BRT) systems, and metros—these are efficient modes of transportation, environmentally speaking.”

But even as great advances in sustainable transport are being made in cities across the globe, Leticia cautions her students that many challenges remain.

For example, the public transportation sector faces hurdles in terms of improving fuel and vehicle technologies. In Leticia’s native Brazil, cost is often the most insurmountable. “Brazil is a country with a corporate vision directly related to cost. Vehicle technologies with high costs and delays in return on investment will not be adopted unless made mandatory by law.”

A recent working paper made possible by the FedEx-EMBARQ Mobility and Accessibility Program (MAP) has the potential to play a key role in changing such perceptions. Exhaust Emissions of Transit Buses, published in October 2012 by an international team of FedEx-EMBARQ fellows, compiled a large data set of in-use transit bus emissions for use in analyzing urban bus fuel and technology combinations and their impacts on bus transit fleets. The study examined local emissions in India, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as global emissions, to understand their impact on human health and the environment.

Leticia was introduced to the fellows’ research while serving as a thesis advisor for one of the authors, Magdala Arioli, a Transport Engineer at EMBARQ Brasil. And she believes it could have big implications in her home country. “This research provides an overview of all fuels and technologies available in the market, and provides knowledge for capacity building to bus operators, transit agencies, and more.”

“Many of these groups do not have a deep understanding of various emissions and their impacts. It can help make Brazilian agencies think more long-term in their decisions and also record important information, like cost data for buses.”

Due to the strict focus on cost pursued by Brazil and many other developing countries when it comes to policy and investment decision-making, Leticia emphasizes the importance of the flexibility the study provides by reporting a wide range of bus fleet fuels and technologies. By enabling analysis of various combinations, the data set can help advise bus operators on decisions pertaining to investing in new vehicles and fuels. “The fact that the analysis shows results of choices depending on differing combinations allows companies the possibility of change.”

Leticia suggests two bright ideas for how to encourage smarter, environmentally efficient investment in improved fuels and technologies in Brazil. First, funding could be offered at lower interest rates to fleet overhauling that offers the greatest environmental benefits. Second, “green” fleet improvements could be used as a marketing strategy, appealing to commuters who seek to lessen their environmental impact. With ingenuity, energy, and thorough data—like the set compiled in Exhaust Emissions of Transit Busesthe possibilities are seemingly endless.

In a few more years, it very well may be some of Leticia’s current students tackling the reinvention of bus fleets in Brazil and beyond. For now, she’s committed to using insights gained through the joint FedEx-EMBARQ research to guide them. “I am a teacher of the discipline of transport and the environment. This type of analysis, as well as the results contained in this work, will be part of my teaching plan going forward.”