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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-16-082    Date:  August 2017
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-16-082
Date: August 2017


Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology Evaluation: National Household Travel Survey Program Final Report

5. Conclusion

Arrow Pointing At Map Place Icon ImageThe findings demonstrate that NHTS data are widely used across a range of fields and across different levels of government. In addition to transportation, NHTS use extends to the fields of health, energy, and the environment. More than half of publications in the 2014 Compendium(1) had a primary application in one of these fields. And while the Compendium analysis revealed that nearly half of publications pertain to topics with a national focus, a sizeable share are international (30 percent) or have a State/regional focus (25 percent). Within transportation, the publications address a variety of topics, and in most cases, several topics are covered in a single publication. Frequently addressed topics across all fields include travel characteristics and behavior, policy and mobility, demographics, and travel trends.

The examination of NHTS-related documents also provides evidence on the diversity of the users. In the Compendium, a large majority of the publications are produced by academics (82 percent); however, the document reviews and interviews revealed that NHTS use is much more widespread. The lead presenters’ analysis (TRB sessions, NHTS conferences/workshops, etc.) demonstrates a greater mix of NHTS users, as 41 percent are comprised of academics, 27 percent are Federal, 22 percent are contractors or consultants, and 7 percent are States/MPOs.

NHTS clearly informs decisionmaking, but it is difficult to identify the specific impact of NHTS, as policy proceedings and legislative hearings are not often transcribed and/or readily available, and oftentimes, the data sources (e.g., NHTS) for policies and legislation are not formally cited. Nonetheless, Volpe was able to identify cases illustrating that NHTS plays an important role in the decisionmaking process. In some cases, NHTS findings set the stage, providing context and understanding on different aspects of American travel behavior that feed into legislation and policy formation. NHTS data serve this function in the Beyond Traffic Report,(6) The C & P Report,(7) The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Reports, and Secretary Foxx’s Safer People, Safer Streets: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Initiative.(23) Indeed, NHTS data have highlighted emerging issues for decisionmakers, such as the finding that Millennials are traveling less compared to previous generations of younger Americans, a finding that has significant implications for the Highway Trust Fund.

NHTS also serves as a benchmark against which progress can be measured on specific policy initiatives, notably in Healthy People 2020(11) and in the Report issued by the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity.(52) In other cases, such as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards,(10) VM-1 Highway Statistics, and the MOVES model.(51 (51)*, NHTS provides key data (and is often the only source of this data) that is used in models or other statistical analyses to provide important information to decisionmakers.

*Revised 4/18/2018

At the State and local level NHTS is a critical input to travel demand models, which are used to inform transportation planning and project initiatives. For some States and MPOs, NHTS is their only source of data for these models. Volpe was also able to uncover a few specific projects that were directly impacted by NHTS, including a bridge project, a transit project, and an interchange project.

With respect to NHTS responsiveness, the findings indicate that NHTS is highly responsive to its user community. Most notably, NHTS has developed the NHTS task force to collect feedback from the user community and to serve as bridge between users and the NHTS team. Based in part on feedback from its users, NHTS is redesigning the upcoming 2016 survey and introducing major changes to the survey methodology. NHTS responds to user questions and data requests, often calling upon Oak Ridge National Laboratory to perform additional analyses. In response to user needs, NHTS has continued to improve the tools on its website, adding Academy modules and online analysis tools. In addition, NHTS regularly conducts outreach at TRB and has convened two conferences to bring the user community together (2004, 2011).

Add-on partners also praise the NHTS team for their efforts in addressing user needs. While Add-on partners are generally very satisfied with NHTS responsiveness, they did offer suggestions for improvement, including the need for: 1) increased communication among Add-on partners, 2) ability to tailor sample purchased to weekday travel, 3) data visualization tools, and 4) online tools that would aid small States and MPOs who lack expertise in statistical analyses. A couple of Add-on partners also mentioned that NHTS needs to think about how it will incorporate technology into future data collection efforts (a topic raised by other lead users). Given the pace of change with technology, “NHTS has to be on its game” as it moves forward, both with respect to understanding data needs and with collecting quality data.

The NHTS is a broad program that encompasses all the activities related to the survey, including planning, survey administration, oversight, data preparation, and distribution. In addition, the program is responsible for outreach, an ongoing activity that is emphasized during survey planning to solicit user input, as well as after data release to support users and to publicize the availability of the data. Given the small staff of the NHTS, it is difficult for this program to realize its full potential in all these activities. Greater resources are needed to increase the value of the Program to USDOT, as well as to other Federal agencies, States/MPOs, and to researchers.



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