Center for Activity Systems Analysis
The Activity-Based Approach
- Author(s): McNally, Michael G.
- Rindt, Craig
- et al.
What is the activity-based approach (ABA) and how does it differ from the conventional trip-based model of travel behavior? From where has the activity approach evolved, what is its current status, and what are its potential applications in transportation forecasting and policy analysis. What have been the contributions of activity-based approaches to understanding travel behavior?
The conventional trip-based model of travel demand forecasting (see Chapters 2 and 3) has always lacked a valid representation of underlying travel behavior. This model, commonly referred to as the four-step model (FSM), was developed to evaluate the impact of capital-intensive infrastructure investment projects during a period where rapid increases in transportation supply were arguably accommodating, if not directing, the growth in population and economic activity of the post-war boom. As long as the institutional environment and available resources supported this policy, trip-based models were sufficient to assess the relative performance of transportation alternatives. It was clear from the beginning, however, that the derived nature of the demand for transportation was understood and accepted, yet not reflected in the FSM. The 1970s, however, brought fundamental changes in urban, environmental, and energy policy, and with it the first re-consideration of travel forecasting. It was during this period that the ABA was first studied in depth.
A wealth of behavioral theories, conceptual frameworks, analytical methodologies, and empirical studies of travel behavior emerged during this same period that the policy environment was evolving. These advances shared "a common philosophical perspective, whereby the conventional approach to the study of travel behavior ... is replaced by a richer, more holistic, framework in which travel is analyzed as daily or multi-day patterns of behavior, related to and derived from differences in lifestyles and activity participation among the population" (Jones et al., 1990). This common philosophy has become known as the “activity-based approach”. The motivation of the activity approach is that travel decisions are activity based, and that any understanding of travel behavior is secondary to a fundamental understanding of activity behavior. The activity approach explicitly recognizes and addresses the inability of trip-based models to reflect underlying behavior and, therefore, the inability of such models to be responsive to evolving policies oriented toward management versus expansion of transportation infrastructure and services.
In the next section, a summary and critique of the convention trip-based approach is presented, followed by an overview of ABAs, focusing on how these approaches address the various limitations of the conventional model. This is followed by a review of representative examples of activity-based approaches, including several perhaps best considered as contributions to understanding travel behavior, and several oriented toward direct application in forecasting and policy analysis. Some summary comments are then provided including an assessment of the future of both trip-based and activity-based approaches.