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Executive Summary T he U.S. transportation system serves hundreds of millions of travelers and handles millions of tons of freight each day to help ensure the efficient movement of people and goods in support of personal goals and domestic and international commerce. A well- functioning transportation system is essential for business travel and tourism, yet no national data have been collected on long-distance, inter- city passenger travel by surface transportation modes since 1995. A strong economy depends on state and regional investments in freight corridors to keep freight moving, but industry-based data on freight shipments, focused on supply chain linkages and local goods movement, are not col- lected. Only coarse national-level data are available on intercity commodity flows. Increased energy efficiency and reductions in greenhouse gas emis- sions from vehicular travel are being sought to reduce the transportation sector’s adverse environmental impacts, but data on vehicle use necessary to monitor progress are no longer being collected. Good travel data1 are essential to support critical policy choices and multimillion dollar investments facing decision makers. Unfortunately, as the previous examples demonstrate, the travel data available today are inadequate to meet this demand. The most comprehensive data are collected by the federal government in periodic surveys. However, coverage 1. Travel data are defined broadly to include origin-to-destination flows, their characteristics—purpose of passenger and freight movements, attributes of travelers and commodities being moved, costs and travel times, and impacts (e.g., on congestion and the environment)—and the characteristics of the infrastructure on which these flows take place. 1
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2 How We Travel: A Sustainable National Program for Travel Data of these surveys is incomplete, sample sizes frequently are insufficient to support meaningful analyses, and the results often are not timely. Moreover, funding for these surveys is subject to shifting political priorities, not infrequently putting them at risk for cancellation. This study assesses the current state of travel data at the federal, state, and local levels and defines an achievable and sustainable travel data system that can support public and private transportation decision making. The primary goal is to develop a strategy for structuring, conducting, and fund- ing the collection of critical travel data. The study is national in scope, recog- nizing that travel data are collected and used at multiple geographic levels and by multiple sectors. It covers all travel modes, with a focus on measuring the performance of the transportation system as a whole. The results are directed to Congress; senior leaders and data program managers at the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) and other federal agencies; states; metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs); other transportation authorities; and firms that collect, analyze, and disseminate travel data. Collection of travel data is a shared responsibility among various admin- istrations within U.S. DOT and other federal agencies. The states, MPOs, and the private sector also collect travel data, primarily for their own uses. These disparate data collection activities do not constitute a coherent national program to meet decision-making needs. A well-integrated National Travel Data Program is needed to guide transportation policies and investments at all levels. The following paragraphs provide a brief overview of the committee’s recommendations for achieving such a program; details are presented in the concluding chapter of this report. To support the wise use of public resources for transportation, par- ticularly in a time of slow growth and massive budget deficits, a National Travel Data Program should be organized and sustained; built on a core of essential travel data whose collection is sponsored at the federal level; and well coordinated with travel data collected by states, MPOs, transit agencies, and the private sector (see Figure ES-1). Logically, the responsibility for leading this effort must reside with U.S. DOT, despite its past failures to develop a comprehensive and effective travel data program, because these data are essential to its mission. The Secretary of Transportation should assume a strong leadership role, with program design and coordination being carried out by the Research and Innovative Technology Adminis- tration (RITA) and its Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the federal statistical agency for transportation, which already has a data collection and coordination mandate.
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Executive Summary 3 National Travel Data Program U.S. DOT Advisory Secretary of Transportation Council Other Federal RITA/BTS: Coordinating U.S. DOT Modal Agencies Functions Administrations National Travel Data: Core Federal Data Collection Passenger Travel Freight Travel Data Component Data Component • Next-generation NHTS • Next-generation CFS State, MPO, and • Intercity passenger • Supply chain survey Other Local travel survey • International freight Agency (e.g., • International travel data transit) Travel passenger travel data • Local operations Data Private-Sector • National panel survey surveys (linked to but • Shares data Travel Data not part of federal collection • Shares data program) • Adds on to collection federal surveys • Provides and/or Other National Travel Data • Provides state, sells private • VIUS for all vehicles regional, and travel data to • Modal travel data local data for the public integration with sector Partnerships with States, MPOs and Other national data Local Agencies, and the Private Sector Data Development and Management • Data design and development • Data clearinghouse and archiving function • Data analysis, product development, quality assurance, and dissemination FIGURE ES-1 Schematic of a national travel data program. (Note: BTS = Bureau of Transportation Statistics; CFS = Commodity Flow Survey; MPO = metropolitan planning organization; NHTS = National Household Travel Survey; RITA = Research and Innovative Technology Administration; U.S. DOT = U.S. Department of Transportation; VIUS = Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey.) If this effort is to be successful, the committee estimates that sustained funding on the order of $150–200 million is needed over the next decade to support the core National Travel Data Program data collection activities across U.S. DOT. The proposed funding—$15–20 million annually, on average—represents a sustained annual increase of about $9–14 million over current annual federal spending of about $6 million on travel data.
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4 How We Travel: A Sustainable National Program for Travel Data Additional funds are needed for BTS to fulfill its data coordination role, and increased set-asides for data collection by states and MPOs are essential to ensure effective collaboration among these partners. The next reauthorization of the surface transportation legislation offers the opportu- nity to secure the funding, building on the need for better data to support performance-based decision making. With billions of dollars at stake, the investment of this modest increment in funding to ensure better outcomes is both necessary and prudent. A national travel data program cannot continue to rely solely on tradi- tional, periodic, large-scale surveys. Declining rates of response to voluntary surveys threaten their validity, and conducting large, periodic surveys makes data collection less efficient and creates cost spikes that can become targets for budget cutting. RITA, in collaboration with its data partners, should invest aggressively in research and testing of new methods—including continuous data collection and greater use of technology—for data collection, integration, management, and dissemination. Current federal travel data programs do not adequately meet the needs of their customers, who are widely dispersed and lack a systematic mech- anism for voicing their needs. This situation undermines the development of a strong constituency to support a National Travel Data Program. A National Travel Data Program Advisory Council, broadly representing major travel data constituencies, should be formed to provide strategic advice directly to the Secretary of Transportation. U.S. DOT, in collaboration with its partners, should move quickly to develop a multiyear plan defining action steps, roles and responsibilities, and milestones to manage and track the development and implementation of the program, and report biennially to Congress on the progress of the effort. Such a plan is critical to assure Congress, U.S. DOT’s data partners, and constituents that the National Travel Data Program is moving ahead. The nation depends on its transportation system. Managing the performance of this system depends on good data, the foundation for prudent and sound decisions. U.S. DOT should seize the opportunity to make substantial improvements in national travel data to support more effective management of the transportation system.