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5 A Strategy for Improved Travel Data T o meet the needs for public and private transportation policy analysis and decision making, the committee recommends the organization of a National Travel Data Program, built on a core of essential travel data sponsored at the federal level and well integrated with travel data collected by states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), transit and other local agencies, and the private sector. To ensure the success of the program, it is important that the Secretary of Trans­ portation provide the necessary leadership and overall guidance because these data are central to the mission of the U.S. Department of Transporta­ tion (U.S. DOT). To support this data program, sustained funding on the order of $150–200 million is needed over the next decade—an annual average of $15–20 million. This proposed funding level represents an annual increase of about $9–14 million over current federal spending of about $6 million on core travel data collection activities. The next reauthorization of surface transportation legislation provides an opportu­ nity to secure the necessary funding. The committee’s consensus findings and recommendations are elaborated below. A National Travel Data Program: The Concept Finding 1: Transportation decision makers face a complex, changing, and uncertain environment, yet the data essential for supporting transportation operations, policy, and investment decisions at all governmental levels and   109 

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110  How We Travel: A Sustainable National Program for Travel Data in the private sector are fragmented and incomplete in coverage and detail, lack timeliness, and are poorly integrated for analysis of current and emerging issues. The issues facing transportation decision makers today range from system performance; to safety; to energy use and environmental impacts; to economic impacts and international competitiveness; to changing demographics; to equity in the allocation of resources, services, and costs. The primary data used to support decision making on these issues are provided in periodic large­scale federal surveys of passenger and freight movement. The sample sizes in these surveys are often insufficient to support analyses at the levels of geographic detail and for the market segments needed by data users. Nor are results always timely, leaving decision makers with no choice but to make decisions with inadequate and outdated data support. Recommendation 1: A National Travel Data Program should be organized and sustained, built on a core of essential national passenger and freight travel data sponsored at the federal level and well integrated with travel data collected by the states, MPOs, transit and other local agencies, and the private sector. Addressing critical issues, particularly in today’s highly constrained funding environment, requires a strategic, interlinked system of passenger and freight travel data. A strong federal role is foundational to enable the combination of travel data from numerous sources to be organized into a coherent national program, well integrated in terms of data architecture (i.e., the framework and relational structure), timing, and methods of data collection and sharing. Collaborations and Partnerships Finding 2: Developing the next generation of passenger and freight travel data surveys and data collection activities will require the active participation and sustained support of many data partners. Finding 3: Private-sector data providers are necessarily key partners because they generate, aggregate, and disseminate data essential to transportation decisions. Thus they can and must play an important role in the development of a National Travel Data Program.

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A Strategy for Improved Travel Data  111  In view of the wide range of data needs and the diversity of users, organiz­ ing a National Travel Data Program cannot be just a federal responsibility but must involve the active collaboration of all data partners, with well­ defined roles and responsibilities. Recommendation 2: U.S. DOT should work cooperatively with public agencies at all governmental levels, private-sector data providers, and professional and nonprofit associations to organize and implement a National Travel Data Program. The proposed program would advance the current travel data collection system by employing more consistent data definitions, stronger quality controls, better integration of data sets, and more strategic use of privately collected data. States and MPOs, for example, collect a considerable amount of travel data, often for their own planning and management purposes, which cannot currently be aggregated for national use because of different data definitions, collection methods, and formats. A process for working collaboratively and on a continuing basis with states and MPOs is needed to develop more common formats so that state and regional travel data can be better integrated and aggregated across jurisdictions for analysis and decision making. Opportunities for partnering with the private sector to derive mutual benefits should be pursued so that private­sector data can be accessed and used while proprietary interests are protected and private­sector expertise in such areas as data collection, aggregation, display, and dissemination is leveraged. More generally, collaboration among data providers, both public and private, can help meet user needs for more detailed data and customized applications for specific sectors, geographic areas (e.g., local bicycle and pedestrian data), and markets that cannot readily be provided by a single data source. Organization and Leadership Finding 4: A successful National Travel Data Program that serves policy makers and planners will require the alignment of leadership, methods, funding, and understanding of market requirements. Finding 5: U.S. DOT remains the logical and most appropriate agency to spearhead such a program because of the central relationship of good national travel data to its mission, even though it has failed in the past to exercise the

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112  How We Travel: A Sustainable National Program for Travel Data essential leadership and provide the sustained support necessary to ensure that the data required to meet the needs of policy and decision making are available. U.S. DOT’s lack of a sustained commitment to meeting travel data needs despite numerous prior assessments of its data programs by National Research Council (NRC) committees and others has resulted in an erosion of travel data quality, coverage, and completeness, leaving significant gaps between the needs of decision makers and the data available to support them. In addition, U.S. DOT lacks the requisite breadth and depth of personnel and skills to support data collection activities. As the nation’s transportation system faces mounting competitive, economic, demographic, environmental, and energy challenges and embarks on new capital invest­ ment programs, U.S. DOT should assume a strong leadership role to meet these challenges and ensure that the needed data are coordinated and integrated into a more coherent picture of how the nation’s transportation system functions. The department needs to move from a mentality of conducting individual surveys to developing a well integrated National Travel Data Program that provides decision support and is customer oriented. Recommendation 3: The leadership role necessary to the success of the proposed National Travel Data Program at the federal level should be assigned to the Secretary of Transportation to ensure that the data needs of U.S. DOT and the nation are met. The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) have the appropriate mission and mandate to carry out the design and management of the proposed program. RITA was created in a departmental reorganization in 2004 to coordinate research­driven innovative technology and transportation statistics, and BTS was assigned by statute to RITA. BTS was created in 1991 as the federal statistical agency for transportation, although it has not had the sustained leadership, resources, and staffing necessary to carry out its mission. Nevertheless, with their focus across all modes and their coordinating statistical role, RITA and BTS, respectively, have the capability, with sustained funding and appropriate staffing, to develop the next generation of passenger and freight travel surveys and data collection activities. The committee does not intend for these activities to supplant the unique, mode­specific data programs of the modal administrations;

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A Strategy for Improved Travel Data  113  rather, RITA and BTS should work closely with these administrations to integrate their data into the National Travel Data Program to enable better multimodal policy making and modal comparisons. The Secretary of Transportation is ultimately responsible for moving U.S. DOT toward more performance­based—hence data­driven—policies and programs. Congress, with its own interest in performance­based man­ agement, should provide the necessary funding and hold the department accountable for making progress toward developing the needed data. New Data Collection, Integration, and Analysis Approaches Finding 6: Realizing the vision of a well-integrated, coordinated National Travel Data Program will require addressing many significant barriers to data collection, integration, and sharing. Traditional methods of collecting data through large-scale, periodic surveys need to be adapted to address issues of public acceptance and take advantage of evolving technologies and data collection approaches. Some of the key barriers to data collection include declining response rates on surveys, privacy and disclosure issues that make it difficult to collect travel data at the level of detail required by some users, the proprietary nature of data collected by the private sector, the challenge of capturing the complexity of travel behavior itself, and the lack of standardization that hampers greater pooling of data from multiple sources. New approaches for overcoming these barriers include media campaigns and incentives to improve survey response rates, as well as greater use of technology to reduce respondent burden (e.g., online surveys and electronic reporting); improve reporting accuracy (e.g., use of Global Positioning System [GPS] technology along with household travel diaries); and provide timelier travel data, sometimes in real time (e.g., use of passive cellular telephone probes to capture travel speeds). None of these measures is a panacea. They also may increase the costs of data collection, but they can also provide data that are more accurate, relevant, and timely. U.S. DOT’s flagship multimodal surveys have not kept pace with innovations in data collection. For example, the Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) still relies on mail out–mail back surveys, and the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) still uses households with landline telephones as its

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114  How We Travel: A Sustainable National Program for Travel Data sampling frame despite the growth in cellular­ and Internet­only households. Relying solely on traditional survey methods thus threatens the validity and relevance of the data products. Recommendation 4: RITA, through BTS and in collaboration with its data partners, should aggressively invest in the design and testing of alternative methods for data collection, integration, management, and dissemination. A major redesign effort will be required if a new supply chain–focused freight survey is to be mounted and other key gaps in freight travel data filled. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is already conducting research on new sampling strategies for the next NHTS. BTS should build and expand on that effort to conduct research on alternative data collection methods more generally (e.g., continuous surveys, longitudinal panel surveys); greater use of technology (e.g., GPS, web­based surveys, passive cellular and smart phone probes to collect travel data in real time, data mining); and federal acquisition, integration, and modification of com­ mercial data that could be useful but are not designed for policy analysis and decision making (e.g., real­time data on vehicle speeds). This research should also include determining the optimal frequency of surveys and updates, pilot testing new techniques, determining the requirements for a national data architecture and clearinghouse function to facilitate the integration of data sets, examining prospects for contracting with private vendors for data collection, and uncovering opportunities for gathering travel data from other federal data collection programs and the private sector. BTS and staff of other data programs across U.S. DOT should also take an active role in the existing interagency Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology under the Office of Management and Budget. This committee is dedicated to improving the quality of statistics among federal statistical agencies and providing a mechanism for statisticians in different federal agencies to meet and exchange ideas. It provides another mechanism for improving the coordination of data collection activities and sharing research on methodological problems related to the collection of travel data. Sufficient and Sustained Funding Finding 7: Funding for federal travel data programs has been both limited, given the need for data, and inconsistent, threatening the existence of some key program components and causing the elimination of others.

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A Strategy for Improved Travel Data  115  Over time, the funding situation has resulted in the erosion of travel data coverage, quality, sample sizes, and staff resources and development, and left decision makers with a limited capacity to address emerging challenges and opportunities in data collection and analysis. Recommendation 5: The proposed National Travel Data Program should receive sustained funding for its core activities, estimated by the committee to be on the order of $150–200 million over the next decade—an annual average of $15–20 million. Ensuring a strong federal core of national travel data will require both a stra­ tegic redeployment of existing funding (e.g., moving to continuous surveys to help smooth out funding and staffing requirements) and new funding to fill critical data gaps and improve the integration of disparate data sets. Finding 8: The next reauthorization of surface transportation legislation offers the opportunity to secure the new funding, building on the need for better data to support performance-based decision making. The proposed funding represents an increase of about $9–14 million over current annual federal spending of about $6 million on core travel data collection activities. Securing this funding would provide support for the core national passenger and freight travel data surveys and the recommended design and development effort. In addition, BTS will need funding to fulfill its data coordinating role and to establish the national clearinghouse and data archiving function to facilitate data integration efforts. Increases in State Planning and Research funds and MPO planning funds are also essential so that state and local data partners can provide more consistent support for national travel data surveys and further efforts to pool and integrate data at all governmental levels. Data sharing arrange­ ments with the private sector could provide an opportunity for cost sharing with industry partners. The total necessary funding noted above—on the order of $15–20 million annually—is modest relative to the size of transpor­ tation investments and the substantial risks of making uninformed choices. Constituent Support Finding 9: Current federal travel data programs fail to fully meet the needs of their customers, and data users are widely dispersed and have no systematic mechanism for voicing their needs.

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116  How We Travel: A Sustainable National Program for Travel Data Without more systematic user feedback and market­sensitive programs, building constituent support for data collection is difficult, and data providers risk designing and delivering data products that fail to meet user needs. Recommendation 6: A National Travel Data Advisory Council representing the major travel data constituencies should be formed to provide strategic advice to the Secretary of Transportation on the design and conduct of the National Travel Data Program and on emerging data needs. This Advisory Council would be distinct from the Advisory Council on Transportation Statistics of BTS, which provides technical advice to the Director of BTS, largely on statistical issues. The new Advisory Council would report directly to the Secretary of Transportation, and its primary mission would be to provide guidance to the Secretary on the conduct of the National Travel Data Program. The Advisory Council should have a broad membership, including representatives of all governmental levels, the private sector, universities, and professional associations and advocacy groups. In addition to its advisory role, it should provide feedback on data issues as they arise, assist in identifying emerging transportation problems and opportunities and related data needs, and help communicate the value of good data. Management and Accountability Finding 10: An implementation plan, establishing action steps, roles and responsibilities, and milestones, is needed to ensure accountability to those who fund, develop, and use the National Travel Data Program. A plan with actionable steps and accountability is critical so that U.S. DOT can assure Congress, its data partners, and its constituents that progress is being made. Recommendation 7: U.S. DOT should develop a multiyear plan for imple- menting the National Travel Data Program in collaboration with its data partners; move rapidly to take the necessary first steps to put the plan into operation; and report biennially to Congress, its data partners, and its constituents on progress made.

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A Strategy for Improved Travel Data  117  Now is an opportune time to move forward with the National Travel Data Program proposed in this report. With leadership commitment at the Secretarial level, a new Advisory Council, and a legislative mandate already in place, U.S. DOT should be poised to take on the responsibilities identified herein. Pending reauthorization legislation, with its likely emphasis on performance management and accountability, provides an opportunity to secure the necessary funding.

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