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Open Access Publications from the University of California

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

  • Author(s): Dowds, Jonathan
  • Harvey, Chester
  • LaMondia, Jeff
  • Howerter, Sarah
  • Ullman, Hannah
  • Aultman-Hall, Lisa
  • et al.

Long-distance travel is an ambiguous designation that is used to refer to an extremely diverse set of trips, differing from one another in mode, distance, and purpose. Long-distance travel encompasses everything from "short" long-distance surface trips between adjacent metropolitan areas through 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.

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.

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