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Conditions and Performance Report. Chapter 1

Conditions and Performance Report
Chapter 1—Personal Mobility

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Measuring Mobility

The Role of Income

Role of Age

Role of Gender

Role of Race and Hispanic Status



By most measures, the United States is the most mobile nation, accommodating over 4 trillion miles of passenger travel and 3.7 trillion ton-miles of freight annually in the late 1990s. A vast system of transportation infrastructure makes this possible: 4 million miles of road, 200,000 miles of rail track, 580,000 bridges, 350 commercial ports, 5,500 airports. Every day, the U.S. maintains, patrols, and moves goods the length of enough commercially navigable waterways to span the globe—25,000 miles if stretched end-to-end.

A mobile society is an open society, where seamless access to diverse economic, social, and cultural marketplaces fosters the opportunities, competition, and choices that fuel the economy and enrich the daily lives of millions. Transportation investment choices contribute to such an open society by increasing access to new activity centers, reducing bottlenecks in existing facilities, and extending mobility to the least advantaged members of society.

Our transportation system is constantly in flux, adapting to the changing frontiers of the U.S. economy and its people. Once principally geographic and geological, the frontiers of transportation have become increasingly technological, economic, demographic, and geopolitical. Exhibit 1-1 illustrates the combined forces that interact in determining the way that people travel.

Exhibit 1-1
Factors Affecting U.S. Travel Patterns:
Economic, Social, Technological, Land Use
and Housing, Demographic, Transportation Policy

A comprehensive treatment of all issues related to mobility is beyond the scope of this chapter. However, evidence has accumulated that not all segments of U.S. society share in the high quality mobility that most Americans have come to expect. Significant barriers to mobility persist for people with disabilities, elderly people, low-income households, recent immigrants and people of color. The system for distributing goods and services fails to reach into some places where millions of Americans live and work. Without a concentrated effort to address the mobility problems of these groups, and their access to goods and services, the participation and success of these groups in the larger economy will continue to be limited.

Today's transportation decisions will create the infrastructure for decades to come. In response to new challenges, the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) calls for new approaches to shaping the U.S. transportation infrastructure to the economy. There is increased emphasis on market principles.

The purpose of this chapter is to place in context the profile of unmet transportation needs in the midst of transportation "plenty." The qualities of the U.S. surface transportation systems are reported throughout the succeeding chapters.

The data from the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) is the source of the figures and analysis in this chapter. The periodic survey provides a snapshot of travel by Americans and allows us to view differences in transportation patterns by income, age, gender and race, and to understand how travel changes over time. The reports and data analyses of the following people were used as source material: Sandra Rosenbloom of University of Arizona, Patricia S. Hu and Jennifer Young of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Daphne Spain of University of Virginia, William Mallett of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Transportation, John Pucher, Tim Evans, and Jeff Wenger of Rutgers University, Steven Polzin of University of South Florida, and Nancy McGuckin, Travel Behavior Consultant. Patricia Hendren of University of California at Davis and Nancy McGuckin provided considerable support in reviewing, restructuring and editing the material.


Page last modified on November 7, 2014
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