Advancing Understanding of Long-Distance and Intercity Travel with Diverse Data Sources

Principal Investigator: Lisa Aultman-Hall | The University of Vermont
Research Team: Jonathan Dowds, Sarah Howerter, and Hannah Ullman | University of Vermont; Chester Harvey | University of California, Berkeley; Jeff LaMondia | Auburn University

Long-distance travel encompasses everything from “short” long-distance surface trips between adjacent metropolitan areas, to intercontinental air trips spanning thousands of miles. These trips serve a wide range of purposes including business travel, leisure travel, and travel to access essential services such as medical care. As such, long-distance travel is increasingly important for sustainable transportation planning both due to the environmental externalities associated with these trips and also because the benefits of access to long-distance travel are inequitably distributed throughout the population. This project drew on five survey datasets, a mobile-device based dataset from AirSage Inc., and semi-structured interviews to address research questions related to how best to measure long-distance travel, how long-distance travel influences well-being, and how access to long-distance travel varies among socio-demographic groups.

Project results indicated that expanded use of convenience samples may provide more cost-effective opportunities to measure long-distance trip length and destination distributions. Social network characteristics may be predictive of certain types of long-distance travel and additional methodological improvements are needed to understand how to more effectively collect social network information including network geography. Analysis of survey data in this project suggested that one-time, self-assessed travel frequency estimates (a common existing measure of long-distance travel) can provide only a crude approximation of the levels of long-distance travel and that self-assessment is most effective for identifying non-travelers and very infrequent travelers.

Historically, transportation equity research has focused on access to local goods and services but access to long-distance travel and to more distant destinations is increasingly important for maintaining social networks and accessing economic opportunities and specialized services. Across multiple datasets in this project, there is ample evidence that lower-income individuals engage in less long-distance travel and have more unmet long-distance travel needs than their higher-income counterparts. Given both the theoretical and empirical evidence that long-distance and intercity travel is correlated with an individuals’ own sense of well-being, especially for leisure or personal purposes, inequitable access to long-distance travel cannot be ignored. This finding suggests generally that lack of equity in long-distance access has been masked by lack of data and is a policy concern that must be considered in sustainable transportation planning moving forward.

Status: In Progress
NCST Grant Cycle: NCST Federal 2015-2016
Funding: $200,000
Sponsors: U.S. Department of Transportation

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