Passenger Travel in the United States

Almost every person in the United States is affected in some way by the quality of our transportation infrastructure. A safe and efficient transportation system can further national interests, support economic well-being, and enhance the quality of life for persons in the country. To achieve this, the Department of Transportation has identified five strategic objectives related to safety, mobility, global connectivity, environmental stewardship, and security.2 A few of these are dominant themes in the arena of passenger travel. For example, the promotion of public health and safety by working towards the elimination of transportation-related deaths and injuries directly impacts the condition under which people can move around their neighborhoods and across the country. Similarly, the shaping of an accessible, affordable, and reliable transportation system for all people and regions affects the quality of life for all people in the nation.

In order to attain the objectives outlined by the Department and the needs of transportation planners, better data are needed to understand the current situation and measure changes over time. One of the Department's goals is to improve mobility through outcomes such as decreased congestion and improved accessibility of transportation. In part, the decisions on how to reduce congestion cannot be made without data that answer questions such as how, why, when, where, for how long, and how far people travel, and whether there are differences across sociodemographic or geography-based groups. Similarly, in order to be inclusive, transportation must be available to all people, including low-income persons, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. The process of improving the transportation infrastructure related to passenger travel requires an understanding of current passenger travel behavior patterns. Data on the travel behavior of these populations help inform urban planners and policymakers on how best to serve the interests of such special-needs populations.

The 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) is also intended to be used by researchers and analysts in organizations, such as metropolitan planning organizations, universities, and state and local governments, to understand how people make travel and residential decisions and to predict the impact of those decisions on public transportation from national and local perspectives. Greater understanding of travel patterns allows communities to plan, invest in, and operate transportation systems that are better suited to the public's needs in areas such as travel demand forecasting, multimode travel, transportation safety, and facility accessibility and use by all segments of the population.

Data Source

This report presents selected highlights from the 2001 NHTS on daily and long-distance passenger travel in the United States. The 2001 NHTS is sponsored primarily by two agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportationthe Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), with additional funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The survey included items on the numbers of drivers and vehicles in the household, the characteristics of these vehicles, and the driver status of all people residing in the household, along with their views on transportation, use of public transit, walking, and biking activities in the last week. In addition, for each individual, data were collected on daily and long-distance trips taken during pre-assigned time frames. For daily trips, data were collected on trip times; means of transportation; which household vehicle was used, if any; wait and access and egress (time from end of transit trip to final destination) times for transit trips; purpose; and presence of household and nonhousehold members. For long-distance trips of 50 miles or more one way, information was collected on the number of trips made during a four-week period, dates for the trips, whether the trip was recurring, purpose and destination of trip, type of lodging used at the destination, primary means of transportation, overnight stops, and access and egress information on airplane, bus, and train trips. In addition, demographic information such as age, sex, medical condition status, and country of birth was collected on the people residing in the household.

The 2001 NHTS updates information gathered in the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) conducted in 1969, 1977, 1983, 1990, and 1995 and the American Travel Survey (ATS), conducted in 1977 and 1995. The data are results of telephone interviews with individuals in sampled households. Data were collected from about 26,000 nationally representative households and approximately 60,000 individuals, which documented about a quarter-million daily trips and 45,000 long-distance trips. Data were collected from March 2001 to May 2002 by Westat, which conducted the survey under contract for the Department. (See section V for further details on survey methodology.) The final public-use data files and complete survey documentation from the 2001 NHTS are scheduled for release in the fall of 2003.

Households were asked about all trips (daily travel) they took on a specific randomly assigned day, labeled the "travel day," and about trips of 50 miles or more taken from home in the 27 days preceding and including the travel day (long-distance travel), a period labeled the "travel period."

Report Approach

Because the purpose of this report is to introduce readers to the contents and analytic potential of the 2001 NHTS survey and data, it does not provide indepth analysis of the different facets of the data. Instead it highlights the variety of topics covered in the survey using basic charts and tables. The report has three main content areas:

  • travel-related characteristics of households and individuals in the United States,
  • characteristics of daily trips taken in the nation, and
  • characteristics of long-distance travel by people.

This report also includes a methodological section that provides details on data collection, methodological constraints, and the computation of standard errors for estimates in this report. There is also a glossary of travel-related terms used in this report. Appendix A provides tables with estimates that were used in the text and figures, along with their associated standard errors.

End Notes

2. Draft DOT Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2003-2008, 1 July 2003.