Household Travel Patterns Study

Start Date: 
Jan 1, 2008
End Date: 
Dec 31, 2010
University of Michigan - Transportation Research Institute

Project overview
The Household Travel Patterns Study is a research project sponsored by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and the Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS). The goal is to test a new method for collecting information about household travel so that we can better understand the potential for new technologies and alternate modes of travel to reduce our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The distinguishing features of this work are that 1) it is activity-based and not trip-based, 2) it considers the activity requirements and interactions of all household members, 3) it looks at activity patterns over a multi-week time period, and 4) it considers limitations specific to the various available transportation options.

What is the need for this study?
Travel data is typically collected for one or two days using a written diary. While this can provide useful information, such as ‘on average, vehicles are driven less than 40 miles per day’, it misses less frequent trips that sometimes affect the choice of vehicle type and size. For example, an electric vehicle may be enough on most on most days, but if an occasional trip is made to a destination 200 miles away, the household will need to use a vehicle with greater range. Without data that extends beyond one or two days, we cannot answer questions about how easily households can choose energy-saving alternatives.

What methods does the study use?
Since it is not practical for households to report the details of every trip for many weeks, a new web survey has been developed which attempts to collect information in a way that we believe more closely matches the way people think about travel-activities. In this survey, instead of reporting a shopping trip yesterday at 4:30 p.m. and last Friday at 5:45 p.m., a respondent might say that they go shopping twice a week after work. In order to check the effectiveness of the web-survey, the research team installs data collection equipment in each vehicle of a participating household. The equipment includes a GPS unit for recording the vehicle location, and one or more digital cameras for taking pictures of the inside of the vehicle at the start and end of trips.

How might this study benefit myself and my community?
Based on an analysis of a household’s survey responses and GPS data, we are able to tell them how efficiently they are using their current vehicles, and what other options they might consider to save energy and possibly reduce travel expenses. Communities interested in car sharing might use data collected from potential members to help design their car sharing program, such as the number of vehicles needed, and their likely availability throughout the day. In the longer term, the methods developed in this research might be used by policy makers to develop incentives for energy conservation, or by automakers to determine the potential market for new energy-efficient vehicles.

How can I participate in the HTPS study?
Please complete the online Sign-up Form for Household Travel Pattern Study

Interested households should:

•    Have two or more vehicles
•    Make most trips using these vehicles
•    Have two or more adult drivers
•    Have a broadband internet connection


University of Michigan - Office of Vice President for Research
Research Areas: 
Travel Patterns
Household Fleet Use