Essays in Environmental, Transportation, and Urban Economics

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This dissertation consists of three chapters studying environmental, transportation and urban challenges in both domestic and international settings. The first chapter “Do Safety Inspections Improve Safety? Evidence from the Roadside Inspection Program for Commercial Motor Vehicles” provides new insights to the study of regulatory enforcement and compliance by evaluating a key, long-standing national road safety regulation. I find that regulatory efforts to reduce public hazards are undermined when agents respond strategically to enforcement. I compile the most comprehensive database on inspections and accidents involving all 23 million trucks inspected nationwide from 1996 to 2018. Linking inspection and crash history using each truck’s unique vehicle identification number, I implement an event study that tracks a given truck’s accidents shortly before and after inspection. I find a sharp, 44.6% increase in the accident rate immediately following an inspection; the effect lasts for at least 14 days. Further analysis points to an explanation consistent with the Becker (1968) model: because inspectors rarely conduct repeat inspections of recently checked trucks, the drivers of these trucks then drive more carelessly and undertake fewer safety checks, leading to more frequent accidents following an inspection. These compensating behaviors lead to an estimated 1,803 additional accidents per year, costing roughly $1.6 billion. A comparison of different regulatory designs across states shows that alternative policy designs that randomize inspection practices and schedules could reduce accidents. In addition to evaluating regulatory impacts on human lives, in the second chapter, I find that environmental regulations nominally aimed at humans can also provide substantial benefits to other species. In my co-authored article, we provide the first large-scale evidence that air pollution, specifically ozone, is associated with declines in bird abundance in the United States. We analyze bird observations derived from over 11 million eBird checklists. The empirical challenge which I contribute to solving is to model the change in relative bird abundance after adjusting for observer efforts and bird detectability. I then combine the bird observations with data on air pollution and weather. We show that the US Environmental Protection Agency NOx Budget Trading Program, an air quality regulation which limits ozone precursors, delivered substantial benefits to bird conservation. Our estimates suggest that air quality improvements over the past four decades have stemmed the decline in bird populations, averting the loss of 1.5 billion birds, approximately 20 percent of current totals. This suggests that further improvements in air quality could meaningfully contribute to efforts to halt or reverse widespread declines in wildlife populations. The third chapter focuses on the role of financial market frictions in limiting consumption amid fast-rising housing prices in urban China. My co-authors and I use the universe of bank card transaction data in China to measure the impact of housing price changes on household consumption during the most recent housing boom. We show that there is a negative consumption response to housing price increases. The result is driven by the combination of a strong investment incentive in housing and heavy borrowing constraints faced by households. This finding is corroborated by the fact that households increase their savings as housing prices increase. I wrote a theoretical model to explain the channels at work, and proposed the use of lagged land sales as an instrumental variable for housing price. Our paper documents patterns that are in sharp contrast to those in the existing literature focused predominantly on the US; and we highlight the importance of taking into consideration capital market imperfections faced by households in developing countries and emerging markets.

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187 pages


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Applied Economics; Environmental Economics; Transportation Economics; Urban Economics


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Union Local


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Committee Chair

Li, Shanjun

Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

Kling, Catherine Louise
Liu, Crocker H.
Rudik, Ivan

Degree Discipline

Applied Economics and Management

Degree Name

Ph. D., Applied Economics and Management

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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