State of Transportation Statistics

State of Transportation Statistics

Resource constraints in the past year have resulted in the reduction in scope or discontinuation of two transportation statistics data series that extend back several decades—the passenger travel and vehicle inventory and use surveys.

Passenger travel survey: The U.S. Department of Transportation has undertaken nationwide passenger travel surveys since the late 1960s; long-distance travel has also been the subject of several surveys, extending back to 1977. RITA’s BTS will not conduct a long-distance travel survey in 2007/2008 as had been planned, and the Federal Highway Administration will require additional resources if it is to field a daily (largely local) travel survey in 2008 that would produce a nationally represen-tative sample. FHWA is continuing its add-on programs. Under the add-on, states can provide funds to carryout surveys in their own areas. Several states and at least one metropolitan area are participating.

Vehicle inventory and use survey: The Census Bureau has conducted a truck or vehicle inventory and use survey as part of the economic census since 1963. The 2002 version of this survey covered light, medium, and heavy trucks. The survey has been discontinued.

Likewise, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has discontinued one of its international maritime statistics data sets—the U.S. foreign trade-based data series. Monthly U.S. foreign waterborne trade and transportation data will no longer be publicly available from the USACE. The U.S. foreign waterborne commerce annual data set will be publicly available but will not include cargo value. The data will continue to be collected by the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security, the monthly data will no longer be released by the USACE.

Finally, due to resource constraints, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Resource Council have not put in place an agreement to carry out a transportation information needs assessment called for in SAFETEA-LU.1 The assessment was to comprehensively examine information needs at the federal, state, and local levels by 2008 and identify priorities and costs.

There is continuing recognition in the transportation community, however, of the need to develop priorities for transportation data needs. In a separate effort, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) has engaged its many committees of professionals in transportation fields to get their input on key data needs. TRB has just issued a circular detailing the results and has suggested that its committees annually evaluate data needs, priorities, and costs.2 Meetings of the TRB committees attract transportation professionals from all fields and regions of the country. Whether there will be a sustained commitment for action that is broader than transportation professionals remains to be seen: Availability of good data for transportation decisionmaking is ultimately a question of resources. The importance of good data for effective transportation decisionmaking will continue, but it is uncertain whether sufficient data will continue to be available to meet the needs of decisionmakers.

1 Section 5601 (d) of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

2 Transportation Research Board, Data and Information Systems Section, Transportation Research Circular E-C109: Transportation Information Assets and Impacts (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences) December 2006