Improving Travel Behavior Data for Environmental Vehicle Analyses

Focus Area

Air Quality


Air Quality




Under $99k


1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Problem Statement:

Climate change, energy security and air quality concerns are at the forefront of contemporary challenges in the transportation sector.  High quality travel behavior data provides an important input into the analyses required to address these issues.  Unfortunately, due to organizational silos, data privacy concerns and the high cost of primary data collection, key players often do not have access to the data needed for developing informed solutions to these challenges.  Key players in reducing vehicle environmental footprint include auto manufacturers, electric utility companies, and transportation planning agencies such as State DOTs and MPOs.
Automobile researchers and manufacturers need travel behavior data to investigate and develop electrified vehicles such as hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs and PHEVs).  On-road consumer travel profiles help inform design decisions (engine, motor, battery sizing, etc), and allow estimation of fuel savings relative to conventional technologies under “real-world” operation.
Utility companies need to understand the electrical grid impact from powering large numbers of electrified vehicles.  Travel behavior data helps them understand the temporal and seasonal variation of this added load on the grid, as well as the potential spatial distribution of recharging stations in order to understand their impact on the transmission system.
Travel demand modelers are interested in the vehicle trace, origin to destination and the average speed/travel time across their network.  Air quality analyses within the urban environment and especially in air quality non-attainment areas seek to model temporal and seasonal differences as well as speed and operational characteristics for the vehicles by type on the roadway.
Insufficient coordination currently exists between organizations that have historically collected travel behavior data and the expanded group of data users involved in environmental vehicle R&D.  As a result, the data collectors assume sole responsibility for the significant costs of data collection and for the liability risk of sharing previously collected data for secondary use.  The emerging data users encounter limited access to high resolution data sets, components missing from previous studies that they would have liked to see included, and find themselves faced with the choice between duplicating data collection at considerable cost or making significant assumptions in order to approximate answers to their research questions.
Research Objective:

Develop a framework for better coordinating travel behavior data collection and accessibility across multiple stakeholder groups.  In addition to improving data accessibility, this effort should help improve data collection efficiency and potentially reduce costs.
A few past practices exist, but have been ad-hoc and suffer from a lack of coordination and geographic coverage.  Some of the limited examples include: 

  • Augmenting 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) vehicle records with DOE/EIA fuel efficiency measures.  In this way, fuel consumption could be linked to specific personal travel trips (trip purpose, time of day, metropolitan area size).
  • Puget Sound Regional Council study in Seattle on electric vehicle/hybrid use.
  • General Motors’ use of survey data from the Los Angeles area for guiding design decisions for electrified vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt.
  • Adding the Puget Sound Traffic Choices Study (FHWA value pricing) dataset to the Transportation Secure Data Center.

Potential Tasks:

  • Stakeholder meeting of the three key players, plus the relevant governmental agencies (DOT/DOE/EPA).
  • Review existing example of travel behavior data applications in electric vehicle/hybrid design and charging station location.
  • Develop full NCHRP problem statement to implement electric/hybrid vehicle planning database, including recommendations on new data collection and/or methods and techniques to integrate multiple data sources, as well as recommendation for developing and implementing a data archive and data access system that the three players can use.

Relevant Literature

  • Using National Travel Data in State Energy Master Planning: Gaps and Opportunities in National Transportation Data; Transportation Research Board 87th Annual Meeting, 2008, 27p

Suggested By

Sponsoring Committee: ABJ30, Urban Transportation Data and Information Systems