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Using census aggregates to proxy for household characteristics: an application to vehicle ownership


Traditionally, researchers studying transportation choice have used data either acquired from household surveys or broad, region-wide aggregates. At the disaggregate level, researchers usually do not have access to important variables or observations. This study investigates the potential usefulness of a proxy approach to modeling discrete choice vehicle ownership: substituting narrow area-based aggregate proxies for missing micro-level explanatory variables by accessing large, publicly maintained datasets. We use data from the 2000 Bay Area Travel Survey (BATS) and the contemporaneous U.S. Census file to compare three models of vehicle ownership, drawing area-wide proxies from increasing levels of aggregation. The models with proxies are compared with a parallel model that uses only survey data. The results indicate that the proxy models are preferred in terms of model selection criteria, and predict vehicle ownership as well or better than the survey model. Parameter values produced by the proxy method effectively approximate those returned by household survey models in terms of coefficient sign and significance, particularly when the aggregate variables are representative of their household-level counterparts. The proxy model with the narrowest level of aggregation achieved the best fit, coefficient precision, and percentage of correct prediction.

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