AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin is leading a new multi-university transportation research hub that will focus on evolving travel behaviors in the wake of technological advances and ongoing shifts in work habits.
The Center for Understanding Future Travel Behavior and Demand at UT Austin will execute what it calls the “Transportation Heartbeat of America Survey” to collect longitudinal data from people, institutions and businesses about changes in travel patterns. The goal is to emphasize a more people-centric approach to mobility analysis to ensure safe, reliable, equitable and sustainable travel on surface transportation systems.
“In the past, we could forecast future demand quite well because of demographic/economic indicators and travel patterns, but travel behavior is now evolving, becoming less transferable in time,” said Chandra Bhat, director of the new center and former director of the Center for Transportation Research at UT Austin. “We need to measure and monitor the evolution of activity-travel patterns so we can better project into the future. To do so, we have assembled an expert team of pioneering travel behavior researchers from across the nation to respond to this watershed opportunity to significantly advance the knowledge base and practical policies and tools for travel behavior analysis and demand planning.”
The UT Austin-led $40 million center, funded through a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and matching funds, includes seven other universities as consortium members: Arizona State University, California State Polytechnic University Pomona, City College of New York, Diné College (Navajo Nation), Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and University of Washington.
In addition to research, the center will contribute to preparing the next generation of transportation leaders through student-centric research and experiential learning opportunities that engage industry, academic, and public agency collaborators.
“This project exemplifies UT researchers’ human-centered approach to understanding the needs of society in a changing world” said Dan Jaffe, vice president for research, scholarship and creative endeavors. “We are already providing real-world solutions to tough challenges in the transportation space. The insights we and our partners will be able to provide will be invaluable for industry, community and public agencies and adds to our effort to provide access to world-class research expertise at UT Austin that will make the mobility of people and goods safer and more equitable for all.”
The first main endeavor is the development of a travel behavior data hub that brings together many existing sources of travel information to create a one-stop shop for insights on current patterns. The second pillar, the Heartbeat Survey, will follow a diverse group of individuals and households across the nation for several years to understand firsthand how their travel choices change.
Additionally, the researchers will survey service providers and employers to track trends in business-provided transportation benefits, employee work-from-home patterns, and use of e-commerce and delivery platforms to reach customers. The project also covers the movement of goods to create a holistic picture of travel behavior across sectors and groups. Traditionally, freight and passenger travel analyses have been siloed, and the team is looking to break down those walls to create more reliable travel projections.
The center is one of five National University Transportation Centers established through $435 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation. UT Austin’s new center will be the only national one in the area of improving the mobility of people and goods.